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Help! I’m talking to my cat!

Diana Cristina Culincu -

Diana Cristina Culincu -

All humans have this evolutionary need to connect to other creatures. While in the past animals were used to fill primitive survival needs, today we outsource our food from supermarkets and keep pets for entertainment, company and connection.

“Don’t you think it’s weird that we talk to animals?” a friend asked me this past October, while we were playing with the cats at Java Whiskers, Stockholm’s very own cat café. We were both on the floor, frolicking with a rambunctious gray kitten, and our group was spread all throughout the room engaged in similar activities. We had all met last year, in the Stockholm Cat Club, and while we all shared similar feelings for the feline companions, our motivations ranged from missing our pets back home, to not being able to adopt a pet in Sweden due to renting agreements or seeking companionship. The question took me by surprise. Having had pets for most of my life, not talking to them seemed inconceivable. So why do we like talking to animals? Is it something we picked up on with the adoption of social media, or is this an old familiar behavior pattern?

Did you see that video of the cat trying different recipes on TikTok? Or the video of Larry, the Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office of the United Kingdom at 10 Downing Street chasing a fox? Social media is full of heartwarming, tear-jerking and funny videos about pets. We share short videos of animals behaving funny or in what we perceive to be human-like behavior to our friends all the time. The very first pet video posted on Youtube, titled “Pajamas and Nick Drake”, was uploaded in 2005, by one of the original founders of the platform, and featured a cat playing with a rope. However, surprisingly the first cat video ever recorded is attributed to Thomas Edison. Yes, that Thomas Edison! Created in 1984 for the kinetoscope, a motion picture device invented by Edison himself, the video featured kittens in boxing gloves fighting in a mini boxing ring and was 20 seconds long.

The tendency to attribute human-like behavior to animals is not new. Mark Twain, Stephen King, T.S Elliot, Patricia Highsmith, Doris Lessing, Ernst Hemingway, and Karl Lagerfeld are only a few famous names who dedicated books to or wrote about their life with their furry companions. Charlotte Brontë herself wrote an entire essay in French contrasting the dispositions of cats to those of humans. Tom & Jerry was my favorite cartoon as a child, I have fond memories of my grandmother reading The Aristocats to me, and Garfield and Puss in Boots are characters loved by children and adults worldwide.

Attributing human-like behavior to animals is called anthropomorphism and is more common than we think. Projecting human specific qualities onto objects is a universal way for people to perceive the world around, making it easier to connect and empathize. Anthropomorphism is also an excellent stress and anxiety outlet. Pet-directed speech is again surprisingly similar to baby and infant-directed talk and a medical study analyzing dog-directed rhetoric found that the human speakers used the same tonality in talking to both younger and older dogs, suggesting that the speech patterns examined were only an attempt to try and facilitate interactions with non-verbal listeners.

But the most important question remains: can animals understand us back? Despite not being able to determine exactly how much Coco, Fido or Lassie understand from what you are saying, scientists have demonstrated that dogs, cats, monkeys, and even dolphins are in fact capable of understanding some basic spoken language, even if they cannot respond. Maybe pets are the purr-fect conversational partners because they cannot answer back?

Publicerad: 2023-03-15

Ansvarig utgivare: Benjamin Javitz
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