When we need a human: Motivational determinants of anthropomorphism

Nicholas Epley*, Adam Waytz, Scott Akalis, John T. Cacioppo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

476 Scopus citations


We propose that the tendency to anthropomorphize nonhuman agents is determined primarily by three factors (Epley, Waytz, & Cacioppo, 2007), two of which we test here: sociality motivation and effectance motivation. This theory makes unique predictions about dispositional, situational, cultural, and developmental variability in anthropomorphism, and we test two predictions about dispositional and situational influences stemming from both of these motivations. In particular, we test whether those who are dispositionally lonely (sociality motivation) are more likely to anthropomorphize well-known pets (Study 1), and whether those who have a stable need for control (effectance motivation) are more likely to anthropomorphize apparently unpredictable animals (Study 2). Both studies are consistent with our predictions. We suggest that this theory of anthropomorphism can help to explain when people are likely to attribute humanlike traits to nonhuman agents, and provides insight into the inverse process of dehumanization in which people fail to attribute human characteristics to other humans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)143-155
Number of pages13
JournalSocial Cognition
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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