Animals perfect conductors of emotional contagion

It’s downright logical to extend rights to animals, especially when it comes to having the right to a fair shake at living, the right to not be injured maliciously or negligibly — all living creatures inherently deserve such things.
Maybe even in certain circumstances there are other rights that are appropriate.
But one thing is certain, we better hope animals never gain legal rights over their likenesses or the Internet will be forever changed.
Then again, maybe that wouldn’t be altogether bad.
Animal photos have always been popular, but Internet animal memes are called viral for a reason, prolifically and pandemically outpacing the Black Death with no cure in sight.
Kittens stand on their heads, dogs cuddle with ducks, monkeys pick their noses and scratch their backsides — all frozen in time and immortalized, at least for a nano-second until another photo crops up to course through the veins of the web.
Of course added to those candid shots are the enhanced variety that sport digitally manipulated human-like expressions and fantastically stitched-together composites, i.e., the Pugga-bunny (a hybrid bunny-pug species) and a baby giraffe with all four legs wrapped tightly around its mother’s neck that appears to be scurrying for safety from something on the ground.
And of course inevitably someone adds a catchy phrase on the off chance the point would be missed absent a punch line.
Cute, hilarious, bizarre, provocative, sometimes inflammatory, inspirational and often sentimental, there appears to be no limits out of reach for the creative or those with quick cameras.
Memes, things that are shared, circulated or imitated, are just a part of being human and definitely predate the Internet, flowing through cultures and societies in the form of trends, habits and behaviors.
But without a doubt, the Internet has hyper-exaggerated the tendency to share.
Some believe it goes even further than simple meme-ing, with the analogy of viral being ironically accurate.
Emotional contagion is the diagnosis of social psychologist Rosanna Guadagno, who conducted a study to see why people share things on a viral level.
Regardless of whether content is positive or negative, what Guadagno and her colleagues found was that people are compelled to spread things that cause strong emotional responses.
Emotional contagions literally spread like a disease with one person after another showing the same response as those around them because it becomes socially acceptable.
And animals are perfect conductors.
Cute and fuzzy is just cute and fuzzy, and when it comes to critters, sometimes even ugly is cute, but it reaches even further.
It’s hard not to smile when you see the image of a broadly grinning elephant under a water spray, or feel the solemnity of a dog faithfully guarding its human’s casket, there is awe when predator and prey curl up together for a nap, setting aside differences.
Contagious though they may be, animal images help communicate very human emotions through their non-human humanness.
Then again, if the virus causes tears, tenderness, understanding, tolerance and heavy doses of laughter, it could be the disease and cure are one and the same.

 Sharna Johnson is a writer who is always searching for ponies. You can reach her at: or on the web at: