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article The internet is awash with animal images and stories, but for humans, it’s the opposite.
We’re not alone in this.
A recent study found that, on average, tweets are more likely to feature animals that are in danger than images of people with similar facial features, and are less likely to include pictures of people who are otherwise good-looking or attractive.
In some ways, we’re more like animals than we are people, says Mark Legg, an anthropologist at the University of California, San Diego, who led the study.
“We can be social animals, but we’re not the same species,” he says.
And as we become increasingly aware of the plight of animals in the wild, our interactions with them can be a little more intimate.
“When I’m talking to my friends, I tend to get more specific about the subject, and I’m not just saying, ‘hey, I’ve seen a giraffe.’
I’m like, ‘I’ve seen the same thing,’ ” says Legg.
And that’s because our emotions are so closely linked to our behavior, which has to do with how we relate to each other.
Legg and his colleagues focused on tweets in which a person was discussing a traumatic event in the past or present, such as being hit by a car, or having a loved one die.
To see how social interactions affected the animals that came up, they took a snapshot of each person’s Twitter history to track their interactions with other animals.
The results showed that the animals in a tweet were much more likely than their non-human counterparts to be sharing their experience of the event.
The images that were shared in those tweets, meanwhile, were typically of cute, happy, or healthy animals, not animals in distress.
“They are so common that it’s hard to separate the real and the fictional,” says Leeg.
“And if the animals are just the animals you think they are, then why is it that these images are more emotional than any of the real ones?”
The study’s authors also wanted to know if the emotional connection between humans and animals could explain the phenomenon.
They tested the idea by trying to understand whether people who use Twitter are more or less likely than others to be friends with animals.
To do this, they focused on the number of people that people say they’re “friends” with, and asked whether they were “friends with animals.”
For the first study, the researchers divided the data by whether they used Twitter or a non-Twitter platform.
Then they examined whether their friends were more or more likely if they used a non-“Twitter” platform, or if they had friends who used Twitter, as well.
They found that there was no difference in how people who used a Twitter platform compared to those who didn’t.
“It’s not that we’re bad people,” says Ligg.
“But the emotional relationship between people and animals is quite different.”
The researchers also compared the emotional connections between animals and humans on the “best-friends” list, and found that this connection was the same regardless of whether or not people were in a relationship.
“If you’re just friends, then there’s not much difference between humans, animals, and humans,” says Nadeem Khan, an associate professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the lead author of the study, which was published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
“People don’t need to have an emotional relationship with each other to share their experiences.”
It’s also important to note that this study is just one of a handful that have looked at the emotional ties between humans with and without pets.
Others have focused on whether people are more drawn to dogs, or cats, or dogs and cats, than to humans.
“That’s not really an accurate depiction of the true emotional connections that exist between humans in general and pets,” says Khan.
“I’m sure there are other things that people may or may not be able to tell us about the emotional lives of humans and pets, but the research suggests that this is not a problem that we should be afraid to discuss.”
As the social network evolves, so will the relationship between humans on it.
“What we want to know is whether or how we can better share these important experiences and interactions with others,” says Dr. Liggett.
“This is a great opportunity for us to make that conversation a little bit more comfortable and a little less awkward, and we can make more meaningful connections.”
This story originally appeared on New Scientist.