Anthropomorphism consists of giving human characteristics or traits to objects, animals or plants, to entities that are not human.
The purpose of this projection is to give peace and security, the unknown or the different can create insecurity or fear. Likewise, human traits capture our attention more, perceiving them more closely. We see the application of anthropomorphism in different areas such as animals; in religion, to describe the gods; in the representation of extraterrestrials; in the construction of robots or in the explanation of meteorological phenomena.
In this article we will talk about anthropomorphism and we will see what is its relation to anthropocentrism, what it produces in people and what is its functionality.
What is anthropomorphism?
Anthropomorphism is confer human qualities on animals, plants, objects… That is to say, to describe with own characteristics of the people to beings or alive objects that are not it. This humanization of the environment around us is done with the intention of providing peace of mind by describing and presenting something known, similar to us, because otherwise what we cannot explain or do not know generates discomfort and anxiety.
This projection of human traits is common during childhood, diminishing with age, although, as we have pointed out, it can also be present in adulthood. We then see how typical anthropomorphism is in humans, that is to say that we show this tendency to humanize our environment. For example, we give people’s own feelings or actions to animals or even give life to objects that they don’t really have.
Relationship between anthropomorphic and anthropocentric
The terms anthropomorphic and anthropocentric both refer to humans, since they have the prefix “anthropo”. Although the total meaning of the concepts is different, anthropomorphic means “human form” and anthropocentric means “the center is man”, the two terms are linked, because in both cases we see a tendency to give more importance to man and to place the human being as central.
It is common for human beings to see themselves as beings with greater superiority or at least act as such.. For this reason, and since we perceive the world from our experience as people, it is easy for us to evaluate or describe our environment with the characteristics of our species.
As we said, this action gives us peace of mind and gives us greater security, we do not understand life without these characteristics that belong to us, so it is common that when we have to describe, for example, animals, we use expressions such as “happy” or “smiling”, it is even common to see cartoons for children showing animals with human physical characteristics such as fingers or human skills such as the ability to speak.
Both concepts prioritize and conceive and understand the world from the perspective of man, put people at the center. This design also reminds us of the geocentric view of the solar system when it was believed that all the planets, including the sun, revolved around the earth, thus reinforcing their belief in the superiority and importance of man, although the we now know that this solar system mode is not correct.
What does anthropomorphic design produce?
Giving human traits to our environment is something we do unconsciously, difficult to control, because the human being does not understand the world without himself. Thus, when we are accustomed to using certain expressions or certain behaviors, it is easy for us to designate everything around us in the same way using the same terms. This fact creates in us a cognitive distortion, a way of understanding or seeing the world around us different from reality.
As we said, it gives us that security and peace of mind because it allows us to explain things or make sense of events that would otherwise be difficult for us to understand, and if There is something that we humans don’t support is not knowing why things are happening or lack of explanation or information about a fact. This anthropomorphism is applied in many fields; for example, we usually treat our pets or animals as if they were human, give them their own characteristics and act with them as if they were someone else, we can even talk to them.
Also, anthropomorphism has also been used in the natural environment. For example, when we talk about the sea, we can say that it is calm or furious. Likewise, we use our own description of humans to explain events that we don’t understand or lack information. We see how the representation of a superior being, of a god, is made from characteristics that belong to us, both physical and psychic. In the Christian religion, it is common to represent God as a man by describing him as a good man, taking care of us, protecting us and watching over us, referring to him as a father.
Given the lack of knowledge or information, such as beliefs in gods, we see how nature has always been depicted with human features, thus observing the tendency to give an explanation to something that one does not know or cannot know 100%. The same thing happened when our ancestors tried to explain events that were beyond their understanding like rain or air, they gave explanations of human behavior like gods crying or gods blowing.
Although we currently know the reason for its occurrence, and therefore it is not so common to use anthropomorphism, these explanations such as storm or wind are still sometimes used. to explain phenomena to children when they cannot understand more complex explanations.
Another example of anthropomorphism can be seen in the construction of robots. Today, with the development of technology, we have been able to create machines, using both physical and psychological human characteristics, we aim to achieve the maximum resemblance between the two.
We also see the use of anthropomorphism to represent the unknown in the description of extraterrestrials.. These beings that live outside the earth can have any shape and act in any way, but in depicting them in films or pictures, we perceive the tendency to use human characteristics such as two legs, two arms, eyes, a head and even giving them the ability to speak or emotions, as we saw in the ET movie The Alien. It’s hard to imagine beings who don’t look like us, and that can frighten us.
How does anthropomorphism affect us?
As we have seen, anthropomorphism can distort us into reality, that is, perceive the world around us in a less objective way. If we are aware of this, it should not be considered as something bad. That is, anthropomorphism does not modify or affect the functionality of the person, but it may be useful to know this effect and that we show this tendency in order be more aware of reality and that not everything is so similar to usthat it’s not all about being human, that there are distinctive traits just as valid as ours.
Sometimes, when the intention is to be objective, to really know the world, this conception must be avoided. For example, when we study and know animals, we must try not to give them human traits and be aware of their animal nature which makes them unique and different from us, to define them without using human words, this is the best way to be more faithful to reality.
Although this is not a recommended behavior for the knowledge of the real world, it has sometimes been useful, because in the end, it is not bad for humans. Treat pets like humans (or rather give them human traits) it can help people who feel lonely feel more supported.
Do not confuse, we do not mean that the relationship with animals replaces the relationship with others, since these are not equivalent, but it can help reduce the need for social relationships that humans tend to demonstrate given our condition as sociable beings.
Similarly, the use of anthropomorphism in paintings, literature or audiovisual is also frequently used, and it can give greater richness to these works of art; it allows you to connect better with people, to draw more attention to them, because as we have seen, in the end, human traits are the ones that capture our attention the most, helping us to feel closer to the work of art, animal or superior.
- Airenti, G. (2018) The Development of Interacting Anthropomorphism: Intersubjective, Imagination, and Theory of Mind. Frontiers in psychology.
- Díaz, M. (2017) Anthropomorphism in the human-animal relationship: Resource or indicator of pathology?
- Scotto, C. (2015) Empathy, anthropomorphism and animal cognition. Research group in epistemology and logic.