Read More: The Atlantic
Do you think it’s weird that I tell Nermal I love her multiple times a day?” My sister’s question was muffled, her face stuffed in the fur of her six-month-old kitten (named for the cat from Garfield). We were sitting in the living room of her apartment and, as always, Nermal was vying for our attention—pawing at our hair, walking along the couch behind us, spreading across our laps and looking up at us with her big, bright eyes. She’s almost aggressively cute, and inspires the kind of love that demands to be vocalized. I’d find it weirder if my sister weren’t doing so. The question made me think about my own two cats, and our many and varied interactions throughout the day. I work from home and find myself narrating my tasks to them (“Okay, Martin, no more Twitter”) or singing impromptu songs (“It’s treat time / Time-to-eat time”). I tell them I love them; sometimes I ask them if they know how much I love them. On days spent away from my apartment, I return home and greet them by asking how their day was. It’s not like I expect them to understand or respond; it just sort of happens. I’d never really given it much thought. I don’t think I’m weird for talking to my pets like they’re human beings, if only because so many other pet-owners do the same. But why do we do it? I got the anthrozoologist and professor of psychology at Western Carolina University Hal Herzog on the phone to talk it out. “First of all,” Herzog told me, “talking to our pets is absolutely natural. Human beings are natural anthropomorphizers, meaning we naturally tend to
all kinds of thoughts and meanings to other things in our lives.”
Humans can do this with just about anything—one might feel bad for the colored pencil that never gets used, or get angry at the phone that won’t hold a charge, or feel real grief over news that a hitchhiking robot has been abused. But that impulse is especially strong for things that are or seem animate, like animals and AI—and when it comes to pets, people often think of them as little members of the family. So of course people talk to them. But even though it might feel like I’m talking to my pets the same way I talk to other people, studies show consistent distinctions between the two.