Anthropomorphism is a scientific phenomenon where we attribute human minds or characteristics to nonhuman objects, including animals. Whether you’re sharing how your day was to your dog, asking your plant to grow, or calling your internet “stupid” — you’re assigning human traits to these things and perceiving them as human-like.
Most people would think that it’s cute how we randomly talk to animals or certain things when we were kids. But when you’re all grown up, and you’re still talking to your fluffy stuffed toys or you’re still arguing with your TV remote, some people would shake their damn heads and call you crazy.
But don’t worry, Science don’t think you’re being cray-cray — it’s actually a sign of intelligence.
Nicholas Epley, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago, and arguably the world’s foremost anthropomorphism expert, told Quartz that anthropomorphism shows humans are uniquely smart and no other species has this tendency.
“Historically, anthropomorphizing has been treated as a sign of childishness or stupidity, but it’s actually a natural byproduct of the tendency that makes humans uniquely smart on this planet.”
He added that we anthropomorphize objects and events all the time whether we’re aware of it or not. We name objects that we form a special bond with, consider them as extensions of our identities, and attribute human traits with them. These are all because our brain is programmed to see and perceive minds.
There are three primary reasons why we might anthropomorphize an object: first, the non-human subject looks like it has a face; second, we’d like to be friends with it; and third, we can’t explain its unpredictable behavior.
Humans have exceptional ability to see and identify face and it is a crucial means of understanding and communicating emotions, thoughts, and intentions. This is also the reason why we tend to see faces everywhere, or at least think we saw something resembling to a human figure.
Who's a good boy? pic.twitter.com/ZEdFgz6FHu
— Faces in Things (@FacesPics) September 20, 2017
Pew! Pew! Pew! pic.twitter.com/fm3CjgNAib
— Faces in Things (@FacesPics) September 4, 2017
We also tend to anthropomorphize the things we like rather than those we don’t since we are more likely to engage with them. This is why we are so attached to our toys and pets, consider them as companions we can always talk to, and relate them to human traits such as: “grumpy” cats, “good boy” dogs, “sad” wallet, etc.
We are more likely to anthropomorphize things because of its unpredictable behavior. This explains why we are getting angry at a computer that won’t turn on and ask for it to “get it together,” speak to car as if it were a person when its engine “refuses” to start, or wonder why our TV is having “hiccups”.
Doing all of these sometimes makes us feel as if we are somehow being delusional. But don’t worry, according to Epley, anthropomorphization is a totally normal social action.
“People who name objects and treat them as human are not delusional fools: The psychological mechanisms behind anthropomorphism are the same as those behind human-to-human social interaction.”
“For centuries, our willingness to recognize minds in nonhumans has been seen as a kind of stupidity, a childlike tendency toward anthropomorphism and superstition that educated and clear-thinking adults have outgrown,” writes Epley. “I think this view is both mistaken and unfortunate. Recognizing the mind of another human being involves the same psychological processes as recognizing a mind in other animals, a god, or even a gadget. It is a reflection of our brain’s greatest ability rather than a sign of our stupidity.”
Now, you can just fire back at those calling you “crazy AF” and tell them that Science says you’re just being intelligent. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯