If you have conversations with your pets or see faces in everyday objects, you’re not strange.
In fact, anthropomorphising – where you ascribe human form or attributes to an animal, plant or material object – has been touted as a sign of intelligence.
That’s according to Nicholas Epley, professor of behavioural science at the University of Chicago, who said that while anthropomorphising “has been treated as a sign of childishness or stupidity” it’s actually a natural byproduct of the “tendency that makes humans uniquely smart on this planet”.
Epley, who is an author and anthropomorphism expert, told Quartz that we anthropomorphise objects and events all the time. That’s because our brain is programmed to see and perceive minds.
For example, we name our cars, invent personalities for and talk to our pets, and recognise faces in everyday objects.
The latter, is an in-built mechanism that has been fundamental to human survival over the years, as it means we are able to distinguish friendly faces from potential predators.
Humans are very social and will often seek out and connect with other people.
When we find others to connect with, we end up trying to decode what they are thinking or going to do. And to establish this, we have a tendency to look into their eyes.
But sometimes, we end up searching for – and actively finding – these human-like qualities in non-human objects too, such as plants, pets and objects.
According to the video below, from Discovery Communications, this phenomena is called pareidolia and it’s evolved in humans over the past few million years.
The part of our brain that recognises faces is called the fusiform gyrus. Amazingly, it can spot a face in just 130 milliseconds. However sometimes an object with a face-like arrangement can also trigger it.
Epley concluded that anthropomorphising is a normal social action. “For centuries, our willingness to recognise minds in nonhumans has been seen as a kind of stupidity, a childlike tendency toward anthropomorphism and superstition that educated and clear-thinking adults have outgrown,” he said.
“I think this view is both mistaken and unfortunate. Recognising the mind of another human being involves the same psychological processes as recognising a mind in other animals, a god, or even a gadget. It is a reflection of our brain’s greatest ability rather than a sign of our stupidity.”
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