Having a one-sided conversation with your pet may make you sound crazy, but science says you’re actually pretty smart.
If you’ve ever owned a pet, you’ve probably talked to it at one point or another. And even though you may have been fully aware that your pet couldn’t talk back or even really comprehend what you were saying, you still did it anyway.
When we talk to our pets, we subconsciously create a human-like bond in our own minds with non-human creatures. We’re built for connection — and we feel more connected to things when we recognize that they’re just like us.
Talking to animals (and even to inanimate objects, such as house plants) is called anthropomorphism. We usually call it “cute” when kids do it, but when adults do it, we tend to view it as a little weird and immature.
But according to behavioral science professor at the University of Chicago and anthropomorphism expert Nicholas Epley, talking to animals and objects is actually a sign of intelligent social cognition. Humans are very social creatures, so our brains are wired to see faces and perceive minds everywhere.
Epley explains that we anthropomorphize the things that we love as opposed to the things that we hate. The more we like something, the more likely we are to want to engage with its mind — even if it doesn’t actually have a mind.
“Historically, anthropomorphizing has been treated as a sign of childishness or stupidity, but it’s actually a natural byproduct of the tendency that makes humans uniquely smart on this planet. No other species has this tendency,” Epley told Quartz.
“For centuries, our willingness to recognize minds in nonhumans has been seen as a kind of stupidity, a childlike tendency toward anthropomorphism and superstition that educated and clear-thinking adults have outgrown,” writes Epley. “I think this view is both mistaken and unfortunate. Recognizing the mind of another human being involves the same psychological processes as recognizing a mind in other animals, a god, or even a gadget. It is a reflection of our brain’s greatest ability rather than a sign of our stupidity.”
Epley believes the association between anthropomorphic tendencies and social intelligence is likely strong. The more often we engage with other human minds, and the more deeply and successfully we read other humans intentions, the more socially intelligent we become.