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Psychol Rev. 2007 Oct;114(4):864-86.

On seeing human: a three-factor theory of anthropomorphism.

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  • 1Graduate School of Business, University of Chicago, IL 60637, USA.


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.

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