Social cognition unbound: Insights into anthropomorphism and dehumanization

Adam Waytz*, Nicholas Epley, John T. Cacioppo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

185 Scopus citations


People conceive of wrathful gods, fickle computers, and selfish genes, attributing human characteristics to a variety of supernatural, technological, and biological agents. This tendency to anthropomorphize nonhuman agents figures prominently in domains ranging from religion to marketing to computer science. Perceiving an agent to be humanlike has important implications for whether the agent is capable of social influence, accountable for its actions, and worthy of moral care and consideration. Three primary factors-elicited agent knowledge, sociality motivation, and effectance motivation-appear to account for a significant amount of variability in anthropomorphism. Identifying these factors that lead people to see nonhuman agents as humanlike also sheds light on the inverse process of dehumanization, whereby people treat human agents as animals or objects. Understanding anthropomorphism can contribute to a more expansive view of social cognition that applies social psychological theory to a wide variety of both human and nonhuman agents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)58-62
Number of pages5
JournalCurrent Directions in Psychological Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2010


  • Anthropomorphism
  • Dehumanization
  • Mind perception
  • Person perception
  • Social cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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