Home Theories Anthropomorphism


Anthropomorphism is a phenomenon in which humans effortlessly attach intentionality and mental states to living and nonliving elements. The motivational roots of anthropomorphism have been the focus of recent research to understand its driving impulses. The underlying cognitive and neuropsychological processes, on the other hand, have not yet been thoroughly investigated.

Table of contents:
  1. What is anthropomorphic bias?
  2. The Intuitive Anthropomorphic Bias
  3. Anthropomorphism Explained
  4. Why Do Writers Use Anthropomorphism?
  5. Anthropomorphism Examples
    1. Anthropomorphism in Alice's Adventures
    2. Anthropomorphism in Animal Farm
    3. Anthropomorphism in The Book Thief
  6. Conclusion

An integrated review is needed due to the growing interest in anthropomorphism and its implications for animal welfare, conservation, and even possible animal behavior research limitations. Using a dual process paradigm, we uncover a collection of putative cognitive pathways underpinning the attribution of mental states to nonhuman animals. We hypothesize that processes developed in the social domain, such as motor matching mechanisms and empathy, and domain-general mechanisms like inductive and causal reasoning, promote mental state attributions.

We conclude that the kind of information accessible to the observer influences these domain-specific and domain-general processes. We present a set of hypotheses for evaluating the suggested model.

What is anthropomorphic bias?

The anthropomorphic bias is that as a computer-animated agent's human-likeness grows, the perceived naturalness of its movements declines. Human or cartoon figures were shown with biological and artificial motions on a touchscreen to evaluate the anthropomorphic bias in autistic youngsters.

Children were expected to touch one that would grow while the other would vanish, implying that their decision would be rewarded. When represented with humans rather than cartoons, figures, only usually developing controls, displayed the predicted preference for biological motion. Despite completing the assignment to express a preference, children with autism did not show normal or reversed anthropomorphic bias, suggesting that they are not sensitive to the unity of shape and motion information when seeing computer-animated agents operate.

The Intuitive Anthropomorphic Bias

This is an example of how anthropomorphism may lead us astray. We observe an animal grinning, and it appears to us that it is happy. That is an excellent heuristic for interacting with other people, but we make a mistake when our unconscious folk psychology applies it to nonhumans in the same manner. Even if we know we're mistaken, the perceptual Gestalt remains: Ham appears to be content. It's important to note that we're not assuming Ham has human-like abilities that he doesn't. There is no discernible difference in the level of intelligence necessary for happiness and terror. We do make mistakes because of intuitive anthropomorphism, and such mistakes don't merely overestimate intellect. There's no reason to suppose intuitive anthropomorphism always leads to error (anthropomorphism is a mode of thinking, not a sort of error), but there is cause to suspect it does. Our daily interactions with pets and animal cartoons show how simple it is: we chat to our dogs and don't flinch when cartoon dogs talk to their owners.

There are evolutionary reasons for us to anthropomorphize: Intuitive anthropomorphism is a quick and cheap heuristic that can be useful for evolutionary objectives, even if it does not meet scientific epistemic criteria. As some have claimed, our intuitive folk psychology most likely developed to guide social interactions with other humans before becoming exapted to manage relationships with nonhuman creatures. The difficult task of reading the thoughts of others is a prime target for 'good enough' forecasting techniques.

Anthropomorphism Explained

It's possible that anthropomorphism was used in some form in some of your favorite stories as a kid. Anthropomorphic characters appear in classic children's stories. Anthropomorphism is also prevalent in folk tales, mythology, and religious stories. For example, Eve is persuaded to eat from the Tree of Knowledge by a talking snake in the biblical book of Genesis. Here are some more interesting anthropomorphism facts:

  • Anthropomorphization may be applied to any physical object. While animals are the most typically anthropomorphized species, anthropomorphism may also transform other things and entities into human-like figures. The French fable and Disney picture The Beauty and the Beast, for example, is full of anthropomorphic furniture that walks and talks, such as clocks and wardrobes.
  • The degree to which anthropomorphic figures behave like humans might also be different. In Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree, for example, a tree cares for a boy throughout his life in the same way a human would. While the tree's ability to communicate its affection for the kid is limited-it can't move or talk, for example-it is anthropomorphic since it experiences human feelings.
  • Both humans and anthropomorphic characters may coexist. The use of anthropomorphism to bring inhuman objects to life in a narrative does not rule out the presence of human characters. Some stories use anthropomorphism to create nonhuman characters who act and interact like humans in the story's universe, such as Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and the film Ratatouille.
  • Anthropomorphic characters are used to represent people in other stories. For example, the titular character of the picture book and children's television show Arthur is an aardvark who lives in a world filled solely with anthropomorphic animals. Some of Arthur's pals are anthropomorphic dogs, bunnies, and other animals, but the viewer is supposed to realize that these creatures are humans in the story's universe.

Why Do Writers Use Anthropomorphism?

The following are some of the most common reasons why authors utilize anthropomorphism to bring their characters to life: Because they are more human, it aids in the creation of vivid, creative characters that readers can relate to. It implies that certain human features are universal-that all living things share them.

It enables authors to envision and convey stories they would not tell if they were writing about people. For example, Finding Nemo is a narrative that could only be told about fish, yet there would be no story if the sea creature characters didn't think, act, and feel like people.

It may be utilized to give a character a symbolic depth and therefore make a tale more metaphorical. Pigs, for example, represent the ruling class in Animal Farm since pigs are connected with greed.

Anthropomorphism Examples

The following anthropomorphism examples are from children's books, novels, and cinema. In other words, anthropomorphism may be found in a wide range of literature and media.

Anthropomorphism in Alice's Adventures

Many of the characters in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland were created using anthropomorphism. The Caterpillar from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is not your average caterpillar: he crosses his arms, smokes, and speaks slowly and condescendingly. He behaves as if he were a person, and more precisely, as if he were a wise and worn-out old professor.

Anthropomorphism in Animal Farm

Animal Farm is a satirical tale about animals behaving like humans-for better or for worse. Old Major, a pig, encourages the other animals to revolt against the men who manage the farm at the start of the book, using language similar to Karl Marx's communist manifesto:

The only true foe we have is the man. Removing Man from the equation eliminates the core cause of hunger and overwork for good. Man is the only species on the planet that consumes rather than produces. He doesn't provide milk, lay eggs, is too frail to pull the plow, and can't catch rabbits fast enough. Despite this, he is the lord of all the creatures. He puts them to work, feeds them the bare necessities to keep them alive, and keeps the rest for himself. However, once the pigs have overthrown the men, they become dictators who exploit the other animals the same way they did previously. Pigs can't deliver political speeches or stage rebellions in real life, but they can on Animal Farm. Orwell employs anthropomorphism to criticize the Soviet Union's use of Marxist philosophy to oppress rather than liberate countless people. The pigs' hypocrisy depicts the Soviet Union's inability to construct a state where the people held authority.

Anthropomorphism in The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is told by Death, who greets the reader with a kind and straightforward greeting: Where are my manners? I could give a good introduction, but it's not essential. Depending on a variety of factors, you will get to know me well enough and quickly enough. It's enough to say that at some point in the future, I'll be standing over you, smiling as brightly as I can. I'll hold your soul in my arms. A color will be sitting on my shoulder. I'll softly carry you away. Death is anthropomorphized by Zusak, who turns him into a talking figure with sentiments and a sense of humor. Death must do-he needs to keep transporting people away when they die-but that doesn't imply he is unconcerned about their misery. Instead, Zusak transforms Death into a sympathetic observer of human sorrow.


Given that I have specifically avoided this subject, one would fairly wonder what this debate signifies for the current state of comparative psychology. This discussion does not show whether nonhuman animals' intellect is overvalued in general. Overestimating intellect is one of the effects of intuitive anthropomorphism, but it is far from the only one. It's possible that it's not even a dominating impact; it's easily identifiable, so its seeming importance may be an issue of availability.

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