Why Do We Anthropomorphize?

Anthropomorphizing, or the tendency to ascribe human characteristics or behaviors to non-human entities like animals, objects, and even natural phenomena, is a common human cognitive bias. From childhood stories where animals talk and behave like humans to adults naming and attributing emotions to inanimate objects like cars or computers, anthropomorphism is prevalent in our daily lives.

The Roots of Anthropomorphism

The origins of this behavior can be traced back to our evolutionary history. As social beings, humans have learned to communicate and empathize with one another to survive. This ability to attribute intention and emotions to others and predict their behavior based on that understanding has enabled us to build meaningful relationships with each other.

But this capacity to anthropomorphize extends beyond just relationships with other humans. We also apply this skill to non-humans to better understand and interact with them.

Why Do We Anthropomorphize?

Though this tendency can sometimes lead us to make inaccurate assumptions or conclusions, there are several reasons why we might continue to anthropomorphize things in our daily lives.

1. To Understand the World Better

Anthropomorphism allows us to create a mental model of the world that allows us to better understand it. When we ascribe human characteristics or behaviors to animals, for example, we can better understand their motivations and actions. The more we can understand the animals around us, the better we can coexist with them in a harmonious way.

2. To Develop Emotional Connections

Anthropomorphism can also be a way to develop emotional connections with things that do not typically elicit emotional responses. For example, naming and attributing personality traits to a car can evoke a sense of attachment and affection for the object.

3. To Cope with Trauma

Anthropomorphizing can also help individuals cope with trauma or difficult experiences. By ascribing human-like attributes to a non-human entity, individuals may find comfort in having someone or something to confide in that cannot judge them or cause additional pain.

The Risks of Anthropomorphism

While anthropomorphism can serve several purposes, it also comes with several risks. Attributing human-like characteristics to non-human entities can lead to unrealistic or incorrect expectations and assumptions, which can ultimately lead to disappointment and frustration.

1. Misattribution of Intelligence

Ascribing human-like intelligence or consciousness to animals can lead to incorrect assumptions about their ability to understand or anticipate human behavior. This can further endanger the safety of both humans and animals in certain situations.

2. Limiting Our Understanding of the World

Anthropomorphism can also limit our understanding of the differences between humans and non-humans. By assuming that animals, for example, behave and think like humans, we may overlook critical differences in behavior or motivation that could impact our interactions with them.

3. Creating False Expectations

By ascribing human-like personalities to non-human entities like cars or computers, we may create unrealistic expectations for their performance or ability to meet human needs. This can ultimately lead to disappointment and frustration as these objects cannot live up to those expectations.

Conclusion

Anthropomorphism is a common cognitive bias that has its roots in our evolutionary history. While it can serve several functions, it also comes with several risks, including the misattribution of intelligence, limiting our understanding of the world, and creating false expectations. By being aware of these risks, we can make more informed decisions about when and why to anthropomorphize non-human entities in our daily lives.

FAQs

FAQs about “Why Do We Anthropomorphize?”

1. What does it mean to anthropomorphize something?

Anthropomorphizing is the act of attributing human-like characteristics to non-human entities, such as animals or inanimate objects. This may involve giving them names, personalities or even emotions.

2. Why do we anthropomorphize?

There are several reasons why humans have a tendency to anthropomorphize. One is that we are wired to recognize patterns and make connections, even where they may not actually exist. Anthropomorphizing can also help us to relate to and understand the behaviour of animals or objects. Additionally, anthropomorphization may be used to express beliefs, values or to establish a sense of control over uncertain situations.

3. Can anthropomorphizing have negative effects?

Anthropomorphizing can have negative effects, particularly when it leads to harmful behaviour towards animals or inappropriate treatment of inanimate objects. It can also be problematic when it leads to the imposition of human values and emotions on non-human entities, or when it leads to the dehumanization of other people. It’s important to recognize the limitations of anthropomorphizing and to be respectful towards all forms of life.


References

1. Gray, H. M., Gray, K., & Wegner, D. M. (2007). Dimensions of mind perception. Science, 315(5812), 619-619.
2. Epley, N., Waytz, A., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2007). On seeing human: A three-factor theory of anthropomorphism. Psychological Review, 114(4), 864-886.
3. Gomila, T. (2010). Why we think we think like physicists, and why we don’t: A predominantly psychological perspective on the nature of naive metaphysics. Foundations of Science, 15(4), 383-403.