Don’t Knock the Cat Lady

| March-April 2009

Is your pet an excellent listener? If so, here’s to your health. Ascribing human qualities to animals—even to inanimate objects—may have genuine health benefits, reports Greater Good (Summer 2008). Anthropomorphism is often regarded as a sentimental mistake, but new research shows that it may come from a hardwired, self-preserving drive to form social connections.

In one study, participants were separated into groups and watched video clips that featured lonely, fearful, or socializing characters. Later, the participants who had empathized with lonely characters were far more likely to anthropomorphize when they were asked to describe animals they knew. Since loneliness poses health risks, “anthropomorphism is a critical—if perhaps last ditch—survival technique that kicks in to stave off the negative health effects of loneliness.” From a therapeutic perspective, pets could provide “physiological protection” to people who lack social contact.

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