All of us have tried talking to our pets at some point in time—be it just to get their attention or asking them to pose for Instagram. Many of us even give names to inanimate objects such as toys or cars and attempt to make conversation with the plants that grow in our backyard. There is a name given to such a human quality. It’s called ‘anthropomorphism, ‘ and it is nothing to be ashamed of.
According to the Cambridge English dictionary, anthropomorphism is the ability to give human traits or qualities to gods, animals, and inanimate objects.(1) Many people consider anthropomorphism as a sign of insanity. However, according to studies carried out by psychologists, exhibiting anthropomorphism is a sign of intelligence since you are actively using the creative part of your mind to bring life to inanimate objects. Furthermore, experts also state that giving human like characteristics to animals and inanimate objects is a form of meditation for the brain (so you’re not exactly weird, just a brain-yoga enthusiast). Anthropomorphism helps you maintain a lively and logical mind.
Only human beings are capable of giving other species traits specific to human beings. This is because of the way our mind thinks and functions. In fact, we all practice anthropomorphism from a very young age by naming our favorite toys or pets and conversing with them as though they were human beings.
Since the dawn of time, humans have always attempted to relate to the natural world around them by giving them human names and traits. From naming hurricanes with human names such as Andrew and Wilma, to clothing animals such as the fictional Mickey mouse in bright red shorts. In fact, such forms of anthropomorphism have been in existence from ancient civilization since some of the earliest deities were combinations of human and beast.(2)
But how much do animals actually reflect humans? A 44-year-old gorilla named Koko wasable to develop the vocabulary of a three-year-old child after learning over one thousand words from American Sign Language.(3) Her caretaker states that Koko refers to herself as the ‘Queen’ and that she is well aware of her royal status.
However, scientists believe that there are significant differences between the human brain and the brains of other animals. They believe animals that copy human traits such as a monkey having a laugh or an elephant displaying its anger are very different from the abstract way of thinking that only humans are able to perform.
Holly Dunsworth, an anthropologist at the University of Rhode Island, claims that “It’s almost like the Internet was built for anthropomorphizing animals.” In her opinion, “Humans aren’t the only animals capable of forming strong bonds, but to say that the kangaroo even knew the other kangaroo was dying is beyond anything we know. No one has shown that animals understand dying or where babies come from. We can’t say they think that abstractly.”
Dunsworth agrees that Koko’s grasping of human sign language is an astounding feat. However, she still believes that Koko’s form of communication with other human beings is lacking in the nuance and complexity in the way in which other human beings communicate with each other. In fact, Dunsworth claims that there is a major difference between ‘hand signals’ and expanding upon complex ideas or abstract concepts.
“Other animals are more complex than purely being driven by instinct, but I’m very comfortable with the explanation that they don’t need abstract reasoning to do these complex behaviors,” she claims.
In fact, many scientists argue that the incorrect portrayal of many animals in TV shows is detrimental to children.
“Anthropomorphism can lead to an inaccurate understanding of biological processes in the natural world,” states Patricia Ganea, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, Canada. Ganea claims that “It can also lead to inappropriate behaviors towards wild animals, such as trying to adopt a wild animal as a ‘pet’ or misinterpreting the actions of a wild animal.”
Patricia stresses upon the fact that the common misinterpretation of animals in children’s shows is the reason why children fail to obtain factual information about these animals which causes them to look at these creatures in a different way that can sometimes prove to be harmful. “Jiminy Cricket is the voice of conscience and not an accurate description of what insects behave like,” stated Ganea. “But, yes, the human-like animal representations in the media are likely to increase the tendency to anthropomorphize the natural world.”
However, using anthropomorphism at a personal level with inanimate objects is a standard practice, and you should not worry if you share a strong bond with your favorite car or doll. Do not feel ashamed to use the power of your imagination; it just proves that you are highly intelligent and possess an active, ingenious mind.