Skip to comments.Does Your Pet Seem Almost Human? It May Be A Clever Response To Loneliness
Posted on 01/19/2008 4:01:17 PM PST by blam
Does Your Pet Seem Almost Human? It May Be A Clever Response To Loneliness
High five! If people feel lonely, they are more likely to describe a pet as having humanlike mental states. (Credit: iStockphoto/Annette Wiechmann)
ScienceDaily (Jan. 20, 2008) New research at the University of Chicago finds evidence for a clever way that people manage to alleviate the pain of loneliness: They create people in their surroundings to keep them company.
"Biological reproduction is not a very efficient way to alleviate one's loneliness, but you can make up people when you're motivated to do so," said Nicholas Epley, Assistant Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business. "When people lack a sense of connection with other people, they are more likely to see their pets, gadgets or gods as human-like."
Social scientists call this tendency "anthropomorphism." As a research topic, the phenomenon carries important therapeutic and societal implications, Epley said.
The behaviors they describe in the paper* are not limited to the lonely. Nevertheless, they are well-known to casual observers, from the stereotype of the woman who lives alone surrounded by her menagerie of cats, to the movie portrayal of a tropical island castaway.
"In the movie Castaway, Tom Hanks was isolated on an island and found the social desolation to be one of the most daunting challenges with which he had to deal," said Cacioppo, the Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology at the University of Chicago.
"He did so, in part, by anthropomorphizing a volleyball, Wilson, who became his friend and confidant while he was on the island." Although fictional, "Castaway depicts a deep truth about the irrepressibly social nature of Homo sapiens," Cacioppo said.
The researchers designed three experiments to test their expectations that lonely people are more likely to make up for their lack of social connection by creating humanlike connections with gadgets or pets, or to increase their belief in the supernatural.
In one experiment, the team found a correlation between how lonely people felt and their tendency to describe a gadget in terms of humanlike mental states.
In another experiment, the team made people feel lonely in the laboratory by asking them to write about a time when they felt lonely or isolated. Under those circumstances, they were more likely to believe in the supernatural, whether it be God, angels or miracles, than when they were not feeling lonely.
"If we made them feel lonely, they were also more likely to describe a pet, even if it wasn't their own pet, as having humanlike mental states that were related to social connection, like being more thoughtful, considerate and compassionate," Epley said.
The research further revealed that not just any negative emotional state produces this effect. "It's something special about loneliness," Epley said. Fear, for example, doesn't increase reported belief in God, or how people describe their pets.
Loneliness is both painful to experience and potentially deadly. "It's actually a greater risk for morbidity or mortality than cigarette smoking is. Being lonely is a bad thing for you," he said.
But anthropomorphizing pets or God may actually confer many of the same psychological and physical benefits that come from connections with other people. The same benefits may not apply to gadgets, which were a component of Epley's studies.
"Non-human connections can be very powerful," Epley said. "A brain's not so sensitive to whether it's a person or not. If it's something that has a lot of traits associated with what it means to be a human, then all the better for us, it seems."
The study also provides insight into the flip side of anthropomorphism: dehumanization. People who enjoy a strong sense of social connection are less likely to perceive humanlike mental states in people who seem different from them. Classic examples occur during times of war, during which a strong sense of nationalism or group identity tend to emerge.
"It may be that strong in-group identity is one of the things that facilitates dehumanizing the opposing side," Epley said.
*Researchers will publish their findings on anthropomorphism in the February issue of the journal Psychological Science. Also contributing to the research were Scott Akalis of Harvard University and the University of Chicago's Adam Waytz and John Cacioppo.
Adapted from materials provided by University of Chicago.
Didn’t Tom Hanks already address this question when he was stranded on a tiny island with a volleyball?
LOL. Guess I should've read the whole thing, or at least applied for a grant. Why are these people being paid again?
WHAAAAAAAAAAAT? Dogs aren’t human???? Well, I’ll be a son of gun! My dog won’t buy this for a minute!
They are beautiful, blam.
I have my little Basset Hound. I do not think she is human, but I am very fond of her.
The secular Left accepts everything in God’s world, except God. That said, animals, especially dogs, are indeed a great gift.
I'll make it a point not to be on your property after dark. lol
What does this say about the envirofreaks who anthropomorphize the planet?
Looks like an alpha male and four loyal subjects. Happy dogs who love you for who you are a gift from God. You can always tell a dog person (just don’t try to tell them too much.)
Nice piece of land. Reminds me of my youth.
They are canine beings!
Castaway--one of the most idiotic movie scripts of all time. A man spends years in total isolation and never once turns his thoughts to a higher power--Now that's a fantastic, completely unbelievable premise. Hollywood, in its obstinate refusal to recognize the importance, or even the existence, of God, has managed to take an excellent movie premise and turn it into a totally forgettable film.
As long as we have Mother Earth to hold us to her bosom we need not be afraid.
Gee you’re cute. Oh wait, you’re not the blonde one, wagging his....
Wow, I got one more than you, my wife, son daughter and my two dogs.
Click on my name to see the kids.
Best post! And I am the dog who would know.
Aww, you have pretty dogs. I bet they are great company.
My dogs wait patiently (Outside) for me to get up each morning.
Morality would apply to our relations with reasoning beings, which might include dogs and birds, but not hammers, screwdrivers and planets.
We have two Bichons, which are small dogs whose most delightful attribute, beyond being very cute and highly intelligent, is that they do not shed hair. Our dogs sleep with us and one night, I asked by wife to roll over, and the dog sleeping between us rolled over as well, just the way we trained him!
And note to the author of this piece: Anthropomorphize, my foot. My cat's more human than a lot of people I know...
Can I help it if my dobies are husband and wife?
Don't ask about the little, animated hearts.
A guy is driving around the back woods of Tennessee and he sees a sign in front of a broken down shanty-style house:
“Talking Dog for Sale .”
He rings the bell and the owner appears and tells him the dog is in the backyard. The guy goes into the backyard and sees a nice looking
Labrador retriever sitting there.
“You talk?” he asks.
“Yep,” the lab replies.
After the guy recovers from the shock of hearing a dog talk, he says “So, what’s your story?”
The Lab looks up and says, “Well, I discovered that I could talk when I was pretty young. I wanted to help the government, so I told the CIA and they had me sworn into the toughest branch of the armed services ...the
United States Marines .you know one of their nicknames is “The Devil Dogs”. In no time at all they had me jetting from country to country, sitting in rooms with spies and world leaders; because no one figured a dog would be eavesdropping. I was one of their most valuable spies for eight years running, but the jetting around really tired me out and I knew I wasn’t getting any younger. So, I decided to settle down. I retired from the Corps
(8 dog years is 56 Corps years) and signed up for a job at the airport to do some undercover security, wandering near suspicious characters and listening in.”
“I uncovered some incredible dealings and was awarded a batch of medals. I got married, had a mess of puppies, and now I’m just retired.”
The guy is amazed. He goes back in and asks the owner what he wants for the dog.
“Ten dollars,” the guy says.
“Ten dollars? This dog is amazing! Why on earth are you selling him so cheap?”
“Because he’s a liar. He never did any of that stuff.
He was in the Air Force
LOL. Good one.
Saw recently: There are many animals on earth, some in human form.
My cat says she doesn't believe any of that crap......
My friends puke when they hear me talk to my Prime Cat, and call me "Abnormal". I even sing selections from "Cats" to her. She seems to like it-purrs, turns around and winks at me with the Hind Eye, as cats are wont to do.
Long story, but I saved her life when she was wild. She follows me around like a dog, and howls when I leave. She is a used, beat up old thing, with an unknown warranty, and kind of shabby looking now, but she is my friend. She is possesive and prefers the other cats to stay away from HER (husband? Servant? Client?)
One for every mood and no extra laundry.
The Cold Nose Crew
Hunter sleeps in my twin bed with me.
Yol sleeps at the foot of my bed on his doggie bed and Porter sleeps in his open door crate.
Doggie door is open after the cold season so they go in and out all night long or stay out when the vacuum cleaner shows up.
When ever a so called scientific study starts with those words, throw it in the trash can.
We have a couple of Weims, they seem almost human at times (and we aren’t lonely, LOL.)
I have a shirt that says: My dogs are not my children...at least that’s what their piano teacher tells me.
I'm betting that part of the reason we see human-type traits in animals is that, since higher mammalian brains are all similar in terms of emotion-processing components and pathways, the animals do have a lot of traits we recognize in ourselves. Also, for tens of thousands of years we have been selecting companion animals of a type we like, and breeding them. We are going to choose animals who have reactions we understand and like. OF COURSE they're going to be more human-like. Sheesh. We're not going to keep and breed companions that hate us or interact with us in incomprehensible ways.
They may not be human, maybe it is better that way.
I don’t suppose anyone has ever heard of Charles Eisenmann and his shepherds.
You should read about his and his dogs.
Oh what a precious, precious baby.
I love your guys.
Sweet, sweet babies.
My pet is human if Huckabee is. She brings in a mouse or rat every few days and asks for a popcorn popper to fry it in.
Now explain cats.
Ummmm,,,,,, how ‘bout ‘the more a person loves and connects with their pet, the more human-like they would describe them.’
It’s not a friggin’ illness or delusion.
Agreed. I have several furry friends running around the house. They are not people, but they all are family. They all have individual personalities, nobody does things exactly the same way others do, some are afraid of different things, have different trust levels than others, different food likes and dislikes, different temperaments enjoy pets in different places, etc.
They are not people, but they are family. I always think about that story in the bible where Samuel is talking about the poor man who had a little lamb that he loved like a daughter, who would sit in his lap and eat from his plate. That’s kind of how I feel about my pets.
The two rules we have about family in our house: 1, no one gets left behind; and 2, we don’t eat family. :)