Talking to your cat might mean that you're a genius.
Do you have full blown conversations with your cat when no one’s around? Me too! There ain’t no shame in asking Mr. Sheepie what he thinks of your new outfit and then agreeing with him that you should just be confident and rock it.
Have you ever named your car? Do you call her Darla and talk her through a tricky moment of parallel parking? Yeah, I’ve totally done it as well. In fact, I think that more people than those who outwardly admit it are guilty of talking to pets, their cars and maybe even their toaster ovens.
It turns out, though, that these people aren’t actually crazy. Actually, people who talk to their pets and their cars may be more intelligent than the people who don’t.
Science has linked the ability of people to give human attributes to things like animals, plants and random objects, with social intelligence and the ability to find faces everywhere.
According to Dr. Nicholas Epley, a behavioral science professor and anthropomorphism (giving human attributes to animals, objects, and plants) expert at University of Chicago, "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."
He claims that humans do this all of the time, even if they don’t realize it. The most common way that people do this is by assigning human names to objects, like Darla, the car. He also points out that there are three reasons why we do this.
- We see faces everywhere.
- We assume that things we like have thoughtful minds.
- We associate humanness with unpredictability.
Sometimes we even see faces in objects where there clearly isn’t one, and this is called Pareidolia. Come on, you totally do this! Have you ever sworn that there was a face in the grain of a wooden fence or on your stereo speakers? Tons of people do this, according to this Twitter account that is dedicated just to faces in random objects
"Fake eyes are a trick we fall for almost every time — one that can dupe us into seeing a mind where no mind exists," said Epley. "As a member of one of the planet’s most social species, you are hypersensitive to eyes because they offer a window into another person’s mind."
Have you seen the movie Cast Away with Tom Hanks? This is a great example of giving human attributes to inanimate objects. Stranded on an island, completely alone, Hank’s character befriends a washed-up volleyball which he names Wilson and draws a face on. He and Wilson become extremely close and share a whole lot of emotional scenes. It’s really not too far off from what most humans would do in that same situation.
A study done in 2010 at Newcastle University involved putting a poster of eyes in the cafeteria to see if people would recycle more often than if there was a poster of flowers. Because people felt like they were being watched, it was more likely that they would recycle.
In another study, people were shown photos of baby animals and adult animals. It was more common for people to prefer the baby animals and to anthropomorphize them.
Finally, a survey of 900 NPR listeners during the show "Car Talk" found that people who liked their cars were more likely to name and talk to them.
Another interesting study conducted by Dr. Epley involved Clocky The Clock, a robotic alarm clock developed by MIT. When the set alarm time went off, the clock jumped down from the bedside table, wheels crossed the floor and emitted a loud alarm.
Dr. Epley wanted to study if people would anthropomorphize the object. He told half of the subjects that the clock was unpredictable and the other half that it was very predictable. The group he told that the clock was unpredictable thought the clock was more mindful, and MRI scans of their brain showed similar patterns to thinking about actual humans when thinking about the clock.