Most pet owners, and even those who just see one on the street, would be lying if they said they had never talked to an animal.
In this article, we will take a look at the reasoning behind this common interaction, since it seems so counterintuitive to speak to something that you know can’t understand you.
The first thing to consider is that when we talk to a fellow human being (over a certain age), we are normally expecting a prompt and response until you find yourself having a fully-fledged conversation.
Yet, with animals, unless you have managed to train your parrot to talk back to you, we aren’t expecting anything much from them.
So why do we talk to our animals? According to Hal Herzog, anthrozoologist and professor of psychology at Western Carolina University, ‘talking to our pets is absolutely natural; humans are natural anthropomorphisers’.
This means that we like to assign humanoid characteristics to things that aren’t actually human, including inanimate objects, robots and animals.
In fact, one study conducted by scientists at the University of Duisburg Essen in Germany found that the same areas of the brain were activated when subjects viewed a robot being given affection as when they viewed affection being given to a human.
Of course, animals are actual living beings, but it is likely this same principle of empathy that causes us to become so attached to our furry friends, even thinking of them as members of the family.
However, while we do talk to our pets, we don’t do it in the same way that we talk to other people: short, simple sentences in high-pitched voices are the standard go-to for pet chatting, with open-ended questions being very rare.
This is similar to how people talk to babies (who are also unable to respond) as it is thought that the way they look engenders a caretaking, affectionate response in the viewer.
Other reasons why we talk to pets include the desire to feel in control since we know beforehand that when we talk to an animal, it will not talk back (unless it is a bee named Barry), the desire to combat loneliness by creating a friend to keep us company, and a whimsical belief that our pets do actually understand.
In a study performed in Hungary , dogs were played recordings of their trainers talking to them, and their brain activity was measured by an fMRI.
The results showed that their brains processed familiar words and intonation in a similar way to humans, which suggests that dogs are actually able to recognise speech, even though they probably don’t understand it.
In addition, talking to pets may seem like a one-sided interaction, but it can actually provide a range of benefits, such as increased feelings of social connectedness and social support, a feeling of relaxation, and a way to relieve yourself of your worries without being judged.
Photo by Leohoho on Unsplash.