People love animals. The estimated $40.8 billion that will be spent over 2007 on pets in the US shows how much. But there’s more, much more. The brilliantly named Dr Joshua New of Yale University has pushed beyond dollars to tell us some important things animals reveal about human beings and how we think and feel. Dr New was in fact researching what people pay most attention to. He showed people pairs of photographs and they had to work out what had changed between them (more about what he did is in The Economist). While people noticed things that could move (like people and animals) more than things that couldn’t (like plants and tools), the good doctor was more taken by the intensity of our responses to animals. People noticed in his photo pairs that an elephant, previously in the background, had moved position, but failed to notice that a large red van that had been in the foreground had vanished altogether! What did the doctor conclude? That we find it easier to detect changes connected with animals, which we expect to move, more than with vehicles even though we also expect motion. Blame evolution. Our brains are still tuned to the signals, dangers and pleasures that kept us alive in our earliest days. To anyone in advertising, the knowledge that animals make powerful emotional connections with people is a no-brainer. In New Zealand, Saatchi & Saatchi worked miracles with this connection in award winning commercials for Telecom New Zealand. Animals as emotional icons. People got it instantly and loved it. So thanks Doc, but not much new there.