Anthropomorphism

What Is Anthropomorphism?

When someone talks to a dog, a computer, a teddy bear, or a car as if they were speaking to another person, they are anthropomorphizing—or attributing human characteristics like emotions and intent to a non-human entity. Anthropomorphism is a universal mental process—pretty much everyone does it—but research shows that the degree to which individuals anthropomorphize can have significant consequences in their lives. Ascribing human qualities to inanimate objects is generally associated with innocuous, often positive effects like "cuteness," humor, empowerment, and a mature sense of responsibility. Anthropomorphism as it relates to nature, for example, can lead to better environmental conservation, and an anthropomorphic attitude towards money can lead to more financial stability.

Extreme examples of this type of behavior, however, are also linked to psychological issues and social concerns, such as an anxious attachment to objects that leads to hoarding, forcing wild animals to behave in unnatural ways for the sake of human entertainment, and social acceptance of androids (robots) that undermines the unique qualities and value of humans.

Characterizing the Non-Human

Anthropomorphized beings are a staple element of films, books, and art, and attributing human behavior to animals is one way that both children and adults interact with the world. But the question of whether animals (or plants, or robots) actually experience motivations and emotions in the same way humans do has long been the subject of debate. Believing that a dog feels guilty after knocking over a vase may help someone bond with their pet—but some research suggests that what humans perceive as “guilt” may merely be an instinctual behavior in response to certain cues.

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