Do you remember your favorite stuffed animal? The one that’s been there for you when you were sick, when you were scared, when you really needed a hug and no one was around? You can’t deny that still today, it is a sweet reminder of your past and an emotional connection to your family. And although affection for what psychologists call a “security” or “transitional” object is typically associated to childhood, it is a lot more common amongst adults than people realize.
A 1979 study by psychologist and security object expert Richard Passman from the University of Wisconsin found that around 60% of kids are attached to a toy, blanket, or pacifier during the first three years of life. Until the 1970s, psychologists believed that these attachments were bad, reflecting a failing by the child’s mother. Today, research contradict that notion. One study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology in 2000, for example, found that kids who had their beloved blankets with them at the doctor’s office experienced less distress, as measured by blood pressure and heart rate.
But why would grown-ups harbor affection for a ratty old blanket or well-worn stuffed dog? Part of the reason is probably nostalgia, but there seems to be a deep emotional attachment to the objects as well. It’s called “essentialism,” or the idea that objects are more than just their physical properties. Think about it: if someone offered to replace your wedding ring with an exact replica, would you accept? Most people refuse, because they believe there is something special about their particular ring. Objects are emotional.
Researchers know little about what’s going on in the brain to bond us to certain objects. One thing is certain: human relationships to objects can be long-running and deep. So next time you come by to pick up a stuffed animal, choose wisely…