Research Topic

The Cognitive Underpinnings of Anthropomorphism

About this Research Topic

Anthropomorphism can be defined as the attribution of human motivation, characteristics, or behavior to artifacts, animals, and natural phenomena. Using a more precise terminology we could say that it consists of explaining nonhuman behavior as motivated by human feelings and mental states, i.e., human folk psychology. In fact, humans speak to non-humans, may quarrel with them, scold or compliment them, etc. The attitude of treating artifacts or animals as if they were humans occurs very early in life appearing to be a fundamental aspect of human cognition. In children as young as two years it manifests in pretend play.

In contemporary research the phenomenon of anthropomorphism has been studied from different perspectives. One approach consists of analyzing the origin and development of this human predisposition in order to highlight the conditions under which the attribution of human mental features to nonhumans is actually carried out. This means considering two fundamental questions: the first question concerns how humans manage interactions and develop feelings like familiarity and empathy, and how they attribute mental states. The other question regards particular features - if there are any- that nonhuman have to possess in order to elicit anthropomorphization. This is a theme that has been extensively treated within robotics since Mori’s proposal of the uncanny valley.

Another approach addresses moral issues. It has been shown that children under certain conditions may very precociously attribute benevolent or malevolent attitudes to objects. Moreover, moral characteristics are often attributed to pets and animals in general, both to whole species and to single individuals. This in turn influences how humans evaluate animals’ rights. Furthermore, a systematized form of anthropomorphism pervades most religions, and as such is a central topic in the cognitive theories of religion.

In all the aspects reviewed so far, anthropomorphism is the object of scientific inquiry. There is also an additional perspective where anthropomorphism is analyzed as a methodological component inside a different scientific enterprise, notably in domains such as ethology and animal cognition. There is an ongoing debate among scientists about the merits or harm of anthropomorphism in the scientific study of animal behavior. Often anthropomorphism is seen as the risk of misattributing human-like abilities to non-humans, but there is also a heuristic value of a kind of "controlled" anthropomorphism in helping to predict animal behavior.

In this Research Topic we intend to take stock of the current developments of research on anthropomorphism and we are looking for manuscripts that address questions pertaining to any aspect relevant to the topic. We welcome theoretical contributions, original research articles as well as reviews and opinion notes, coming from all areas of psychology and cognitive science including anthropology, human and animal cognition, neuroscience, philosophy, and robotics.

Relevant topics include but are not limited to:
- the origins of children anthropomorphism
- anthropomorphism in fantasy and pretend play
- the attribution of mental states to animals
- anthropomorphism in human-animal interaction
- human theory of animal mind
- teleological reasoning
- the cognitive bases of familiarity and empathy toward nonhuman entities
- the neural basis of anthropomorphism
- individual and cross-cultural differences in anthropomorphism
- animal anthropomorphism in teaching moral and scientific knowledge to children
- cognitive theories of religion
- anthropomorphism in human-robot interaction
- anthropomorphism in social robotics


Keywords: anthropomorphism, theory of mind, social cognition, human-animal relationships, cognitive science of religion, pretend play


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Anthropomorphism can be defined as the attribution of human motivation, characteristics, or behavior to artifacts, animals, and natural phenomena. Using a more precise terminology we could say that it consists of explaining nonhuman behavior as motivated by human feelings and mental states, i.e., human folk psychology. In fact, humans speak to non-humans, may quarrel with them, scold or compliment them, etc. The attitude of treating artifacts or animals as if they were humans occurs very early in life appearing to be a fundamental aspect of human cognition. In children as young as two years it manifests in pretend play.

In contemporary research the phenomenon of anthropomorphism has been studied from different perspectives. One approach consists of analyzing the origin and development of this human predisposition in order to highlight the conditions under which the attribution of human mental features to nonhumans is actually carried out. This means considering two fundamental questions: the first question concerns how humans manage interactions and develop feelings like familiarity and empathy, and how they attribute mental states. The other question regards particular features - if there are any- that nonhuman have to possess in order to elicit anthropomorphization. This is a theme that has been extensively treated within robotics since Mori’s proposal of the uncanny valley.

Another approach addresses moral issues. It has been shown that children under certain conditions may very precociously attribute benevolent or malevolent attitudes to objects. Moreover, moral characteristics are often attributed to pets and animals in general, both to whole species and to single individuals. This in turn influences how humans evaluate animals’ rights. Furthermore, a systematized form of anthropomorphism pervades most religions, and as such is a central topic in the cognitive theories of religion.

In all the aspects reviewed so far, anthropomorphism is the object of scientific inquiry. There is also an additional perspective where anthropomorphism is analyzed as a methodological component inside a different scientific enterprise, notably in domains such as ethology and animal cognition. There is an ongoing debate among scientists about the merits or harm of anthropomorphism in the scientific study of animal behavior. Often anthropomorphism is seen as the risk of misattributing human-like abilities to non-humans, but there is also a heuristic value of a kind of "controlled" anthropomorphism in helping to predict animal behavior.

In this Research Topic we intend to take stock of the current developments of research on anthropomorphism and we are looking for manuscripts that address questions pertaining to any aspect relevant to the topic. We welcome theoretical contributions, original research articles as well as reviews and opinion notes, coming from all areas of psychology and cognitive science including anthropology, human and animal cognition, neuroscience, philosophy, and robotics.

Relevant topics include but are not limited to:
- the origins of children anthropomorphism
- anthropomorphism in fantasy and pretend play
- the attribution of mental states to animals
- anthropomorphism in human-animal interaction
- human theory of animal mind
- teleological reasoning
- the cognitive bases of familiarity and empathy toward nonhuman entities
- the neural basis of anthropomorphism
- individual and cross-cultural differences in anthropomorphism
- animal anthropomorphism in teaching moral and scientific knowledge to children
- cognitive theories of religion
- anthropomorphism in human-robot interaction
- anthropomorphism in social robotics


Keywords: anthropomorphism, theory of mind, social cognition, human-animal relationships, cognitive science of religion, pretend play


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

31 December 2017 Abstract
20 April 2018 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

31 December 2017 Abstract
20 April 2018 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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