As I write this, I am sitting next to my little shelter dog, Phoebe. Before I started typing, we had a chat about how she's getting stinky and needs a bath. We decided, however, to wait for the weather to warm up a bit. Am I crazy to be having conversations about hygiene (or anything else, really) with my pet?

Happily for me and the many, many pet owners out there who regularly hold one-sided conversations with their furry family members, the answer according to science is no. In fact, experts suggest talking to pets -- or plants or gadgets -- is a sign of intelligence.

Time to rethink those "crazy cat lady" stereotypes

Science might have good things to say about my chats with Phoebe, but casual observers on the street would probably disagree. Despite the fact that so many of us have chatted with our pets, berated a malfunctioning computer, or named a car, we also tend to think of people who talk to nonhumans as, well, kind of crazy.

"For centuries, our willingness to recognize minds in nonhumans has been seen as a kind of stupidity, a childlike tendency toward anthropomorphism and superstition that educated and clear-thinking adults have outgrown," Nicholas Epley, an author, professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago, and expert on anthropomorphism (assigning human qualities to nonhuman things), explains in a long, fascinating Quartz article on the subject.

But, he continues, "I think this view is both mistaken and unfortunate. Recognizing the mind of another human being involves the same psychological processes as recognizing a mind in other animals, a god, or even a gadget. It is a reflection of our brain's greatest ability rather than a sign of our stupidity."

In short, your quickness to see and read emotion and intention in your dog's adorably tilted head is a byproduct of your skill in reading the intentions and feelings of other people. Sensitive, perceptive people, in other words, talk to their pets, not deranged ones.

Anthropomorphizing is "actually a natural byproduct of the tendency that makes humans uniquely smart on this planet," Epley insists.

Our quickness in seeing a human shape in a shadow and our belief that a Labrador's eyes are full of complex longing for love instead of lunch both flow from our hard-wired skill at recognizing and reading faces, the Quartz article explains. Yes, your heart-to-hearts with your cat might be overkill (as is the latest report that someone spotted Jesus's face in a tortilla or fence post), but it comes from the same skill that allows you to sense your boss's mood or that your spouse is harboring some secret unhappiness.

Congrats! You're not a weirdo!

The bottom line is this: Congrats! You're not crazy! Talking to your pets is a sign of sensitivity, EQ, and all around human intelligence. I can't promise you that you won't get some weird looks if you do it on the street, but you can rest assured that conversing with your fur babies is actually totally normal.

Published on: Feb 22, 2019