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When We Need a Human: Motivational Determinants of Anthropomorphism by Nicholas Epley and Adam Waytz

When We Need a Human: Motivational Determinants of Anthropomorphism by Nicholas Epley and Adam Waytz

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Published by DogsBite.org
What is "anthropomorphism" and how does it interact with dangerous "pets"? Read this study to learn more.
What is "anthropomorphism" and how does it interact with dangerous "pets"? Read this study to learn more.

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Published by: DogsBite.org on Mar 08, 2010
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Nicholas Epley and Adam Waytz
University of Chicago 
Scott Akalis
Harvard University 
 John T. Cacioppo
University of Chicago 
We proposethat the tendency toanthropomorphizenonhumanagents isdetermined primarily by three factors (Epley, Waytz, & Cacioppo, 2007),twoofwhichwetesthere:socialitymotivationandeffectancemotivation.This theory makes unique predictions about dispositional, situational,cultural, and developmental variability in anthropomorphism, and wetest two predictions about dispositional and situational influences stem-mingfrombothofthesemotivations.Inparticular,wetestwhetherthosewho are dispositionally lonely (sociality motivation) are more likely toanthropomorphize well–known pets (Study 1), and whether those whohave a stable need for control (effectance motivation) are more likely toanthropomorphize apparently unpredictable animals (Study 2). Bothstudiesareconsistentwithourpredictions.Wesuggestthatthistheoryof anthropomorphismcanhelptoexplainwhenpeoplearelikelytoattributehumanlike traits to nonhuman agents, and provides insight into the in-verse process of dehumanization in which people fail to attribute humancharacteristics to other humans.
Aristotlesuggestedthattheonlycriticalingredientintherecipeforsupremehappi-ness was other people, and social psychologists more than 2,000 years youngerhaveprovidedempiricaljustificationforthisclaim(Diener&Seligman,2002).Peo-pleneedotherhumansindailylifeforreasonsrangingfromthepracticaltotheexis-
Social Cognition, Vol. 26, No. 2, 2008, pp. 143-155This research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (SES0241544) and the John Templeton Foundation.We thank Jasmine Kwong, Carlos Lozano, and Laura Meek for assistance with this research.Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Nicholas Epley, University of Chi-cago, 5807 South Woodlawn Ave., Chicago, IL 60637. E–mail:epley@chicagogsb.edu.
tential,andwesuggestherethatthisneedissostrongthatpeoplesometimescreatehumansoutofnon–humansthroughaprocessofanthropomorphism.Inparticular,wesuggestthatsuchinferentialreproductioncanbeusedtosatisfytwobasicneedsthatotherhumans(ortheconceptofhumans)cansatisfyineverydaylife—theneedforsocialconnection(Baumeister&Leary,1995)andtheneedtoexperiencecompe-tence (i.e., control and understanding of the environment; White, 1959). We derivethese claims from a more general theory of anthropomorphism (Epley, Waytz, &Cacioppo,2007),andspendtheremainderofthisarticletestingtwopredictionsde-rived from this theory and explaining why psychologists should care aboutanthropomorphism.
Perceivinghumanlikecharacteristicsineitherrealorimaginednonhumanagentsisthe essence of anthropomorphism. These humanlike characteristics may includephysicalappearance(suchasareligiousagentbelievedtolookhumanlike;Guthrie,1993),emotionalstatesperceivedtobeuniquelyhuman(e.g.Leyensetal.,2003),orinner mental states and motivations (Gray, Gray, & Wegner, 2007). Real or imag-inednonhumanagentscanbeanythingthatacts—orisbelievedtoact—withappar-ent independence, including nonhuman animals, natural forces, religious agents,technological gadgets, or mechanical devices. Such anthropomorphic representa-tionsareimportantdeterminantsofhowapersonbehavestowardstheseagents(aswithnonhumananimals,forinstance),orhowapersonmaybehaveinlightoftheseagents(suchaswithguidance thatpeopleseekfromanthropomorphizedreligiousagents).Knowing what anthropomorphism includes requires only one minute spentalonewithadictionary(readersareencouragedtotakethatminutenow).Moreim-portant for psychologists, however, is what it does not include, and it does not in-clude at least four things. First, anthropomorphism does not include behavioraldescriptions of observable actions. Announcing that the snarling dog chewing onone’sankleisaggressiveisadescriptionofanobservableaction,andeventhemostardent Skinnerian would accept that there is no anthropomorphism in that state-ment. Anthropomorphism requires going beyond what is directly observable tomakeinferencesaboutunobservablehumanlikecharacteristics(suchasstatingthatthe dog is vindictive; see also Semin & Fiedler, 1988).Second,anthropomorphismdoesnotmerelyentailanimism.Piaget(1929)noted,for instance, that children tend to see living agents almost wherever they look. Butanimate life is not a uniquely human property. Although anthropomorphism en-tails treating an agent as living, the former is not reducible to the latter.Third, anthropomorphism does not include any requirement of reasoned or re-flective endorsementofan inference. Like any belief orattitude,thestrengthofan-thropomorphic inferences will vary from one domain or context to anothe
(variability that our theory is designed to predict). Religious believers frequentlyspeakofGod’swill;catownersdescribetheirpetsasconceited,andcomputerusersverbally scold and curse their technologywhenit fails to“cooperate” withthem(apractice reported by 79% and 73%, respectively, of PC users; Luczak, Roetting, &Schmidt, 2003). These examples describe behavior consistent with anthropomor-phism, but not all people in these instances will, upon conscious reflection, reportthattheagentinquestiontrulypossesseshumanlikecharacteristics.Strongformsof 
anthropomorphism (such as many religious beliefs) entail behaving towards anagentasifitpossessedhumanliketraitsalongwithconsciousendorsementthattheagent actually possesses those traits, whereas weak forms (such as cursing one’scomputer) may only contain the weaker as-if component. This variability instrength is the same kind of variability that occurs in the strength of any attitude(Petty & Krosnick, 1995). A theory of anthropomorphism does not need to acceptone form or reject another, but it does need to explain both strong and weak formsequally well.Finally, anthropomorphism is not necessarily inaccurate. Everyday discourse,scientificdebates,andscholarlytreatmentsofanthropomorphismhaveequatedan-thropomorphismwithanovergeneralizederro
(e.g.,Guthrie,1993), andthereforehinge on whether anthropomorphism actually represents a mistaken representa-tion of a nonhuman agent. But considering an inference anthropomorphic onlywhen it is clearly a mistake is itself a mistake. Readers are encouraged to return totheirdictionariesforanotherminuteandnotethataccuracyappearsnowhereinthedefinition of anthropomorphism. People conceive of gods, gadgets, and an entiregaggle of nonhuman animals in humanlike terms. Although interesting, whethersuch inferences are accurate is orthogonal to a psychological understanding of theconditionsunderwhichpeoplearelikelytomakeananthropomorphicinference.Apsychological theory of anthropomorphism should predict variability in thetendencytoperceivehumanliketraitsinnonhumanagents,andcanleavequestionsof accuracy for others to answer.
Due to the incessant focus on accuracy, much research on anthropomorphism hasactually overlooked a psychological explanation for the very phenomena in itsmidst. Although anthropomorphism is arguably widespread (Guthrie, 1993;Hume, 1757/1956), even the most casual observer of the human condition will no-tice that it is far from invariant. Some people anthropomorphize more than others(Chin, Sims, DaPra, & Ballion, 2006), some situations induce anthropomorphismmore than others (Epley, Akalis, Waytz, & Cacioppo, 2008), children tend toanthropomorphizemorethanadults(Carey,1985),andsomeculturesarenotoriousfor their anthropomorphic religions and worldviews (Asquith, 1986). We providehereabriefoverviewofatheoryofanthropomorphismfocusingonthreecriticalde-terminantsdesignedtopredictvariabilityacrossthefourmajorcategoriesofopera-tional influence in daily life—dispositional, situational, developmental, andcultural(seeEpleyetal.,2007foramoredetaileddescription).Wederivethistheorylargely from work in social cognition investigating how people think about otherpeople.Anthropomorphismrepresentsjustoneofmanyexamplesofinductionwherebypeoplereasonaboutanunknownstimulusbasedonabetter–knownrepresentationof a related stimulus (Rips, 1975), in this case reasoning about a nonhuman agent basedonrepresentationsoftheselforhumans.Thebasicoperationsunderlyingin-ductive inference are the acquisition of knowledge, the activation or elicitation of knowledge, and the application of activated knowledge at the time of judgment(Higgins,1996).Theapplicationprocessincludesattemptstocorrect,adjust,orinte-gratelessaccessibleinformationintoamoreautomatically activateddefaultrepre-sentation—a correction process that is often insufficient leaving final judgments

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