The Echoes of the Mind (40-1) Anthropomorphism


Personality traits exist in nonhuman animals. ~ American social psychologist Samuel Gosling et al

Anthropomorphism is the tendency to ascribe human traits to non-humans. Mentalizing nonhuman agents is accomplished the same way as with people: based on inferred meanings of behaviors and done with the same goal in mind: to reduce uncertainty. The seeming success of this exercise renders some agents more mindful than others.

A dog’s got personality, and personality goes a long way. ~ Jules Winnfield in the movie Pulp Fiction (1994)

◊ ◊ ◊

Conceptualizations of God or gods are invariably anthropomorphic exercises. There are at least 10,000 distinct religions, each with its own set of supernatural beings. Yet their representations regularly take on suspiciously familiar appearances and attributes.

The default representation of God in virtually all religions is deeply anthropomorphic, complete with mental states of intentions, goals, purpose, and emotions. ~ Nicholas Epley & Adam Waytz

If God was utterly beyond ken its existence would be irrelevant to ours. Only through anthropomorphization is there any hope for understanding, and thereby reaping benefit by establishing a relationship: whence God as a comprehensible supreme being with human sensibilities and emotions.

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. ~ Hebrews 11:6, The Bible

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. ~ 1 John 1:9, The Bible

◊ ◊ ◊

Deities and animals are not the only entities to receive mind-perception treatment. All manner of objects are projected to have mental states.

Key characteristics to invoke mentalizing include movements that are recognizably animate in their pattern and timing, and objects which appear to be goal oriented.

Like other kinds of causal inferences, mind perception occurs effortlessly and spontaneously. ~ American social psychologists Carey Morewedge, Jesse Preston, & Daniel Wegner

Designers take advantage of people’s inclination to mentalize by creating products that infer a mind-set. The front grills of cars are commonly configured to suggest emotive faces.

Beyond their cartoonish humanoid appearance, personal robots are engineered to mimic human behaviors, including responding to nonverbal social cues, to create a sense of comfort with what otherwise could be terrifying technology.

“You stupid computer!” is not an uncommon exclamation in office buildings. ~ American psychologists Justin Barrett & Amanda Johnson

As they are tools which appear to embody a degree of intelligence in their behaviors, users instinctively treat computers like people. Alas, the developers who create computer software often fall short. Mind perception fosters expectation, and expectation is a formula for disappointment.