Dogs are described as man’s best friend, but they are more like our surrogate children, a neuroscientist said.
With their wide eyes and helpless nature, pets have actually hijacked our evolutionary impulse to care for babies, according to Dr. Dean Burnett.
Dr. Burnett told the Cheltenham Science Festival: “We are programmed to respond to things that remind us of babies – so cats and dogs and puppies.”
It’s the only real explanation for why we keep cats around, he said.
“Make sure you try to explain cat ownership to an alien,” he told the Mail after the conversation. “The alien would ask, ‘It’s a highly evolved predator – and you keep it in your home?’
Dogs are described as man’s best friend — but they’re more like our surrogate children, a neuroscientist said
“They’d ask, “Does the cat like you?” and you should probably say no.
Asked “Did it get you anything?”, you’d answer that it gets you ripped-open rodents, which aren’t your favorite.
“And the cat has quite a few psychopathic tendencies — so the alien would really struggle to understand why you’re feeding it, paying for it, keeping it flea-free, and letting it poop in your house.”
The neuroscientist, who talks about his five-year-old cat Pickle in his bestselling book on the science of emotion, Emotional Ignorance, says cats and dogs have many of the same traits as human babies.
He said we are evolutionarily wired to be heavily emotionally invested in babies, so adults don’t just abandon children after birth.
But this concern has accidentally ‘blown over’ to our pets.
Dr. Burnett said: ‘Dogs and cats are small with big heads and eyes, they can’t talk, they are often playful, but they are quite dependent on us.
“We’re emotionally sensitive to these traits because they’re like babies, so we want to protect them.”
The neuroscientist, whose cat Pickles has a devoted following on Twitter, added: “If a person acts like a cat, is contemptuous and indifferent and commits mass slaughter, he is likely to be arrested.”
The neuroscientist, whose cat Pickles has a devoted following on Twitter, added: ‘If a person acts like a cat, is contemptuous and indifferent and commits mass slaughter, he is likely to be arrested.
“But we think these are cute, simply because they remind us so much of babies.”
The suggestion that pets create some kind of misdirected parenting response is supported by scientific evidence.
A 2014 study by Harvard-affiliated researchers scanned mothers’ brains as they looked at photos of their children and their dogs.
Their brains appeared to light up in a similar way when viewing the images, suggesting they felt the same type of emotion for both dogs and children.
Dr. Burnett told Cheltenham Science Festival: ‘We are determined to respond to things that remind us of babies – so cats and dogs and puppies’
This research was discussed at last year’s Cheltenham Science Festival by Dr. Anna Machin, from the University of Oxford, who said at the time: ‘When we look at people’s brains with their dogs, we see the fingerprint of love and we also see the nurturing areas of the brain light up.’
But the evolutionary anthropologist added that a difference in brain signal intensity suggested that people were “probably more likely to save the child first in a fire.”
Dr. Burnett, who has two children and a one-year-old beagle named Forest, said: ‘People are now more likely to have children later in life, if at all, so having a pet can help ease the ‘itch’ we have cause. to expand our family and nurture and protect someone helpless.
“I don’t really like the term ‘fur baby’ myself, but there’s no denying that a lot of people feel that way about their cats and dogs.”
WHAT ARE THE TEN GENERAL MYTHS ABOUT DOGS?
It’s easy to believe that dogs like what we like, but this isn’t always entirely true.
Here are ten things people should remember as they try to understand their pets, according to animal behavior experts Dr Melissa Starling and Dr Paul McGreevy, from the University of Sydney.
1. Dogs don’t like to share
2. Not all dogs like to be cuddled or petted
3. A barking dog is not always an aggressive dog
4. Dogs do not like other dogs entering their territory/home
5. Dogs like to be active and don’t need as much relaxation time as humans
6. Not all dogs are overly friendly, some are a bit more shy to begin with
7. A dog that seems friendly can quickly become aggressive
8. Dogs need open space and new areas to explore. Playing in the garden is not always enough
9. Sometimes a dog won’t misbehave, it just doesn’t understand what to do or what you want
10. Subtle facial cues often prevent barking or snapping when a dog is unhappy