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What Is Anthropomorphism?

When someone talks to a dog, a teddy bear, a computer, or a car as if they were speaking to another person, they are anthropomorphizing—or attributing human characteristics to a non-human entity. Some people are more inclined to anthropomorphize than others, but it is a common way of interacting with the world.

Anthropomorphism is often associated with innocuous connections between individuals and beloved pets or possessions. But the human tendency to perceive the presence of human-like minds in other entities can also be misleading. While non-human animals do share many mental faculties with humans, anthropomorphism may contribute to misunderstandings of the nature of animal minds and the causes of their behaviors.

How Do We Use Anthropomorphism?

Anthropomorphized beings are a staple of myths, films, books, and other forms of storytelling. Attributing human intent to non-human animals, spirits, robots, or other entities, real or imagined, is one way that both children and adults make sense of the behaviors and events that they encounter.

The question of whether non-humans actually experience motivations and emotions in the same way humans do has long been the subject of debate. For example, believing that a dog feels guilty after knocking over a vase may help people bond with their pet. Yet some research suggests that what humans perceive as “guilt” may merely be an instinctual behavior in response to certain cues.

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