Why do we talk to animals (and things)?

dog

baobao ou / Getty

Review of Why Do Humans Talk to Animals If They Can’t Understand? by Arianna Rebolini in The Atlantic | AUG 18, 2017

I talk to animals all the time, whether they are dogs, goats, cows, pigs, chickens, etc. (I volunteer at an animal shelter and a farm sanctuary.) I know they speak different languages from mine, but I know at least they can hear me. I believe whatever affection I melt into my speech will reach them through the sound. It is one of ways I express my love and care for them. I know it works because they respond differently when I talk to them sweetly (e.g. patting) versus when I talk to them sternly (e.g. giving commands)

When people are asked to define ‘language’, they often use the word ‘communicate’ to describe its meaning. So when I talk to animals, although my message is not conveyed 100%, I intend to communicate with them at some level. This is supported by recent incidents at my animal shelter. We currently have a deaf and blind dog, Pretty Girl. I noticed that I talk to her significantly less than to other dogs. I start by talking to her upon our encounter but quickly hold myself back realizing she can’t hear me. Then I try to focus on other ways to communicate with her–mostly through slow touch and smell.

Not only do I talk to animals, I talk to objects, too. When I drop my phone, I will say “sorry” to it. When a copy machine finishes copying my material, I will commend it by saying “good job, copy machine!” Why do I do that? I know they don’t hear me, so the purpose is not to communicate. (And I know I’m not cuckoo, either.) This article by Arianna Rebolini provided me with some answers to this question. It started with the topic of talking to animals, but it gave explanation to why humans talk in general.

Hal Herzog, the anthrozoologist and professor of psychology at Western Carolina University, states

talking to our pets is absolutely natural. Human beings are natural anthropomorphizers, meaning we naturally tend to [ascribe] all kinds of thoughts and meanings to other things in our lives.

Yes! I’m a ANTHROPOMORPHIZER! (In face, we humans all are.) This word comes from a verb–anthropomorphize.

an·thro·po·mor·phize

/ˌæn θrə pəˈmɔr faɪz/

to ascribe human form or attributes to (an animal, plant, material object, etc.).

Source: dictionary.com

However, we are NOT all same anthropomorphizer. Ha! It turns out some people tend to talk to animals (or non-humans) more than the others. A 2008 study by Northwestern University found that individuals who chronically feel lonely or desire control in their lives treated their pets more like human companions. This definitely explains Chuck Noland’s relationship with Wilson the volleyball in the film, Castaway. Stranded alone on a small island, Chuck paints a face on a volleyball and names it Wilson. Wilson plays a vital role keeping Chuck, who feels deeply lonely and utterly out of control, alive and sane during this four-year-long isolation until he gets rescued.

wilson.jpg

This study might also explain my behavior of talking to just about anything: I have constant craving for socialization and control over uncertainties in life. Or I might be just idiocyncratic, believing that we CAN communicate with all things in our surrounding, at least spiritually.

 

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