On Seeing Human: A Three-Factor Theory of Anthropomorphism

Nicholas Epley*, Adam Waytz, John T. Cacioppo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

964 Scopus citations

Abstract

Anthropomorphism describes the tendency to imbue the real or imagined behavior of nonhuman agents with humanlike characteristics, motivations, intentions, or emotions. Although surprisingly common, anthropomorphism is not invariant. This article describes a theory to explain when people are likely to anthropomorphize and when they are not, focused on three psychological determinants-the accessibility and applicability of anthropocentric knowledge (elicited agent knowledge), the motivation to explain and understand the behavior of other agents (effectance motivation), and the desire for social contact and affiliation (sociality motivation). This theory predicts that people are more likely to anthropomorphize when anthropocentric knowledge is accessible and applicable, when motivated to be effective social agents, and when lacking a sense of social connection to other humans. These factors help to explain why anthropomorphism is so variable; organize diverse research; and offer testable predictions about dispositional, situational, developmental, and cultural influences on anthropomorphism. Discussion addresses extensions of this theory into the specific psychological processes underlying anthropomorphism, applications of this theory into robotics and human-computer interaction, and the insights offered by this theory into the inverse process of dehumanization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)864-886
Number of pages23
JournalPsychological Review
Volume114
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2007

Keywords

  • agency
  • animal cognition
  • anthropomorphism
  • mind perception
  • social cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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