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Motivated Mind Perception: Treating Pets as People and People as Animals



Human beings have a sophisticated ability to reason about the minds of others, often referred to as using one's theory of mind or mentalizing. Just like any other cognitive ability, people engage in reasoning about other minds when it seems useful for achieving particular goals, but this ability remains disengaged otherwise. We suggest that understanding the factors that engage our ability to reason about the minds of others helps to explain anthropomorphism: cases in which people attribute minds to a wide range of nonhuman agents, including animals, mechanical and technological objects, and supernatural entities such as God. We suggest that engagement is guided by two basic motivations: (1) the motivation to explain and predict others' actions, and (2) the motivation to connect socially with others. When present, these motivational forces can lead people to attribute minds to almost any agent. When absent, the likelihood of attributing a mind to others, even other human beings, decreases. We suggest that understanding the factors that engage our theory of mind can help to explain the inverse process of dehumanization, and also why people might be indifferent to other people even when connecting to them would improve their momentary wellbeing.
Abstract Human beings have a sophisticated ability to reason about the minds
of others, often referred to as using one’s theory of mind or mentalizing. Just like
any other cognitive ability, people engage in reasoning about other minds when
it seems useful for achieving particular goals, but this ability remains disengaged
otherwise. We suggest that understanding the factors that engage our ability to
reason about the minds of others helps to explain anthropomorphism: cases in
which people attribute minds to a wide range of nonhuman agents, including
animals, mechanical and technological objects, and supernatural entities such
as God. We suggest that engagement is guided by two basic motivations: (1)
the motivation to explain and predict others’ actions, and (2) the motivation to
connect socially with others. When present, these motivational forces can lead
people to attribute minds to almost any agent. When absent, the likelihood of
attributing a mind to others, even other human beings, decreases. We suggest
that understanding the factors that engage our theory of mind can help to explain
the inverse process of dehumanization, and also why people might be indifferent
to other people even when connecting to them would improve their momentary
Everyone needs someone to cling to, a source of support to ease anxiety when
feeling upended and alone. For Julia Hill during such times, that source was Luna
(Hill 2000). “Whenever I felt [anxious] during those first days, I’d just hug Luna,
and I’d feel rooted.” For a little over 2 years, Julia spent every waking and sleeping
moment with Luna, caring for her, defending her, encouraging her, and fighting
Motivated Mind Perception: Treating Pets
as People and People as Animals
Nicholas Epley, Juliana Schroeder and Adam Waytz
S. J. Gervais (ed.), Objectification and (De)Humanization,
Nebraska Symposium on Motivation 60, DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4614-6959-9_6,
© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013
N. Epley (*)
University of Chicago, 5807 South Woodlawn Avenue,
Chicago, IL 60637, USA
J. Schroeder
University of Chicago, Chicago, USA
A. Waytz
Northwestern University, Evanston, USA
N. Epley et al.
to save her life. Julia slept, ate, and bathed with Luna. She danced, prayed, and
talked intimately with Luna. She risked her life repeatedly to save Luna. This deep
connection enabled empathy between them. “If anything happened to her, I’d feel
like it would be happening to me.” When Luna was cut, “I felt it cut through me as
Unlike most people’s source of support, however, Luna is not a person. “She”
is a 200-ft tall redwood tree living in the ancient coastal forests of California.
For 738 straight days Julia Hill lived 180 ft off the ground in the tree’s enormous
branches, through constant wind and occasionally life-threatening storms, try-
ing to save Luna from loggers. For Julia, Luna was not only a living being, but
a mindful being as well. After living in the tree for some time, for instance, Julia
stopped wearing shoes. “I couldn’t stand the feeling of separation from the tree.
With all that stuff between my foot and the branches, I couldn’t tell if what I was
about to stand on was strong enough to hold me or if my foot was on the branch
securely. I couldn’t feel Luna’s life force or take instruction from her about how to
climb.” Julia wrote that when each neighboring tree was cut around her, “it makes
this horrible scream before crashing into those trees near it.” She claimed to feel
their pain. “Each time a chain saw cut through those trees, I felt it cut through
me as well. It was like watching my family being killed. I wanted to stop the vio-
lence, I wanted to stop the pain, I wanted to stop the suffering.” When asked by a
reporter if she had a boyfriend, Julia responded only half-jokingly, “Who needs a
boyfriend? I have a tree.
Julia anthropomorphized Luna, attributing a humanlike mind to a clearly non-
human entity. She is not delusional, or a paranoid schizophrenic who attributes
minds to everything. She is more deeply committed to a cause than most people
will ever be, but she is not psychopathological. Instead, she possesses a perfectly
functioning human mind equipped with exceptional social senses that enable her
to reason about the minds of others. Typically, these senses are directed at other
human beings, monitoring another person’s intentions or goals or emotions,
assessing another person’s preferences, and remembering what others know and
believe (Herrmann et al. 2007). This capacity to reason about the minds of oth-
ers appears to be one of the human brain’s greatest strengths, enabling just the
kind of social intelligence necessary to live successfully in enormous social groups
(Humphrey 1976; Tomasello et al. 2005).
Under the right circumstances, however, this capacity also enables a person to
attribute a humanlike mind to almost any entity, thereby anthropomorphizing it.
Such anthropomorphism matters for social life for three major reasons (Epley and
Waytz 2010; Waytz et al. 2010b). First, mindful agents come to be seen as moral
agents worthy of empathic care and concern, deserving treatment that respects
their capacity to suffer, to reason, and to have conscious experience (Gray et al.
2007). Mindless agents are objects that can be used as tools. Anthropomorphism
may therefore be the foundation of animal ethics (Wantanabe 2007). Second,
mindful agents can reason and think and therefore be held accountable for their
actions. A “guilty mind”—one with the capacity for intent and foresight—is
required to convict a person of any crime in most modern courts of law. In times
Motivated Mind Perception: Treating Pets as People and People as Animals
when people were more willing to attribute minds to their domesticated animals, it
was routine to arrest animals accused of a crime and try them in a criminal court
(Humphrey 2002). Anthropomorphized Gods are still frequently held responsible
for everything from major weather events to minor successes and (especially) mis-
fortunes (Gray and Wegner 2010). Third, mindful agents become sources of social
surveillance, capable of thinking, and forming impressions of us. In one exper-
iment, for instance, participants respond to surveys in a more socially desirable
manner when taking them on anthropomorphized computers (Sproull et al. 1996).
In others, participants behaved more ethically when reminded of a mindful God
who could be watching them (Norenzayan and Shariff 2008).
In this chapter, we will explain some of the psychological processes that
guide anthropomorphism, whether it is a tree or a pet or a computer or a God. We
believe that these processes are guided by the same motivational forces that create
engagement with the mind of another person, forces that make the mind of another
agent relevant for one’s current goals. Motivation guides attention, and we believe
two motivations in particular make people attend to the minds of other agents: the
motivation to explain another agent’s behavior and the motivation to form a social
connection with another agent. We also believe these motivational processes of
engagement can help to explain the inverse process of dehumanization, whereby
people fail to attribute a mind to another human being. Understanding the motiva-
tional triggers that lead people to think about the minds of others helps to explain
when people are likely to represent others as human beings, and when people are
likely to represent others as animals or objects. The same human being who could
attribute a mind to a tree in one moment could also overlook the mind of another
human being in the next moment.
Human Minds Everywhere?
Julia Hill’s experience with Luna is extreme, but her ability to perceive a human-
like mind in a nonhuman agent is not. The vast majority of people living on the
planet today believe in one or more Gods who have thoughts and intentions and a
wide range of mental capacities, from rage to love to omniscience. In one survey,
79% of computer owners reported having scolded their computer when it broke
down, as if their mindless silicone chips could hear them (Luczak et al. 2003). It is
not surprising, then, that General Motors (GM) became embroiled in controversy
after airing a Super Bowl ad in which a robot, apparently failing to work up to
GM’s quality standards, became depressed and then rolled itself off of a bridge.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention was outraged. The ad, they
argued, “portrays suicide as a viable option when someone fails or loses their job,
even though the main actor was a mindless machine (Waytz et al. 2010a). GM,
in turn, now has more avenues available to defend itself given the U.S. Supreme
Court’s decision that corporations should be considered “persons” under the law,
having attitudes and opinions and preferences that must be protected under the
N. Epley et al.
right to free speech (Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission 2010).
Even inanimate objects can become endowed with minds. When a bell in Mexico
City’s famous Catedral Metropolitana struck and killed a bell ringer in 1947, the
parishioners sentenced it to be tied down for 50 years and stripped of its clapper as
punishment (Waytz et al. 2010b). Humanlike minds seem to appear almost every-
where, from pets that seem loving and thoughtful to financial markets described as
“anxious” one moment and “optimistic” the next to a universe that can occasion-
ally appear to have a plan and purpose for one’s life. Julia Hill is far from alone.
Being able to attribute a humanlike mind to others is a fundamental feature of
human cognition. When this ability is applied to a nonhuman agent, whether it is
a tree or a computer or a company, it creates what most people refer to as anthro-
pomorphism. By definition, anthropomorphism is the “attribution of human char-
acteristics to a God, animal, or object.” If you ask philosophers (Dennett 1987;
Locke 1997), lawyers (Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948), or a ran-
domly selected human being to define what “human characteristics” entail, they
will tend to describe two basic capacities involving a mind. One is the ability to
think—to reason, to choose, to deliberate, to strategize, to act on preferences. The
other is the ability to feel—to suffer, to have inner conscious experiences like joy
or shame or pride or guilt (Farah and Heberlein 2007; Gray et al. 2007; Haslam et
al. 2013; Leyens et al. 2000; Waytz et al. 2010c). Anthropomorphizing an agent
goes beyond outward appearances by attributing a thinking or feeling mind to it.
This definition makes it clear that anthropomorphizing a nonhuman is not neces-
sarily inaccurate (a dog, after all, may well have a very humanlike mind), even
though the most obvious cases of anthropomorphism entail attributing a mind to
something—even momentarily—that is unambiguously mindless.
Because anthropomorphism is observed so commonly, philosophers, sociolo-
gists, and psychologists have suggested that it is an automatic and possibly even
universal phenomenon. Xenophanes, a sixth century B.C. Greek philosopher,
noted how readily religious believers anthropomorphized their Gods, with Greek
Gods having fair skin and light hair but African Gods having dark hair and dark
skin, even joking, that if cows had Gods then they would imagine them to be cow-
like. Xenophanes’ main concern, however, was not imagining Gods in humanlike
forms, but rather imagining Gods with humanlike minds that are prone to immo-
rality. “Homer and Hesiod have attributed to the Gods all sorts of things which
are matters of reproach and ensure among men: theft, adultery, and mutual deceit”
(Lesher 1992, p. 23). Hume (1957) agreed, and then went even further: “There
is a universal tendency among mankind to conceive all beings like themselves.
Piaget (1929) believed anthropomorphism began almost immediately in a per-
son’s life: “From the very beginning of its development…the child endows things
with human activity.” This is still a popular belief among social scientists today.
“Inevitably and automatically, we all anthropomorphize,” writes anthropologist
Stewart Guthrie (1993). Far from being extreme or unusual, anthropomorphism
appears to be as common to human nature as breathing and bipedalism.
As popular as this conclusion may be among philosophers and psycholo-
gists and the parents overrun with their toddler’s stuffed animal friends, we also
Motivated Mind Perception: Treating Pets as People and People as Animals
believe it is overstated. In particular, we believe this general conclusion overlooks
the basic psychological processes that enable people to think about the mind of
another agent, thereby missing critical moderators of this tendency in everyday life
and exaggerating its frequency. Indeed, most research on anthropomorphism has
investigated either its accuracy (“What are dogs really thinking?”; e.g., Horowitz
2009) or its consequences (“Does anthropomorphism explain religious belief?”;
e.g., Bering 2006). A moment’s reflection will make it clear that some people (and
some cultures) anthropomorphize more than others (Medin and Atran 2004), some
situations induce anthropomorphism more readily than others (Epley et al. 2008a,
b; Waytz et al. 2010d), and some objects or animals are anthropomorphized eas-
ily, whereas others are not (Waytz et al., 2010c). Even thinking about the mind of
another person is not necessarily an automatic or spontaneous process (Apperly
et al. 2006). Tufts University, for instance, was apparently having such a problem
with students failing to think automatically about the minds of others that they had
to establish a policy banning students from having sex in their dorm rooms while
their roommate is present. It is apparently easy to overlook the minds of others
when your own mind is focused elsewhere. Considering the mind of another per-
son requires at least some motivation and attentional resources. Lacking either the
interest or ability to consider another person’s mind produces a long list of self-
centered biases in judgment (Barr and Keysar 2004; Epley 2008; Gilovich et al.
1999; Nickerson 1999).
Also notice that as easy as it is to find cases of rampant anthropomorphism,
so too is it easy to find cases where people fail to recognize another human
mind standing right before their eyes. On May 2, 1789, Standing Bear, a Native
American from the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, was standing right in front of a U.S.
Appellate court judge trying to convince the U.S. Government to recognize him
as a person, as a mindful human. Up to this point in history, the government had
treated Native American as property—as thoughtless objects or unfeeling savages.
Turning to the audience during his testimony, this illiterate and formally unedu-
cated man held out his hand and channeled Shakespeare. “This hand is not the
color of yours. But if I pierce it, I shall feel pain. If you pierce your hand, you also
feel pain. The blood that will flow from mine will be the same color as yours. I
am a man.” (Dando-Collins 2004). This is neither an historical anomaly nor an
unrepresentative anecdote. Outgroup members are consistently and reliably seen
as having diminished mental capacities compared to ingroup members, particu-
larly being less able to feel pain or to suffer (Goff et al. 2008; Xu et al. 2009) and
less likely to experience secondary emotions such as shame, pride, guilt, or embar-
rassment (Demoulin et al. 2004; Gaunt et al. 2002; Leyens et al. 2000).
It is not just the enemy or the disadvantaged, however, who occasionally get
treated as mindless. Aaron Rodgers, quarterback of the National Football League’s
Green Bay Packers, defended a teammate who lashed out at an abusive fan by not-
ing that “fans sometimes forget we’re human…we are people, and we have feel-
ings.” Ray Lewis, one of the most vicious players in the NFL, expressed the same
sentiment about NFL owners after they proposed extending the already grueling
16-game season to 18 games. “[I know] the things that you have to go through
N. Epley et al.
just to keep your body [functioning]. We’re not automobiles. We’re not machines.
We’re humans” (Feith 2011). Even those charged with treating people the most
humanely, namely doctors, can fail to recognize the full capacity of another per-
son’s mind right before their eyes. Up until the early 1990s, it was routine prac-
tice for infants to be operated on in the United States without anesthesia to dull
their pain. Doctors at that time believed infants were less able to feel pain than
adults, thereby making anesthesia unnecessarily risky. “How often we used to be
reassured by more senior physicians that newborn infants cannot feel pain,” Dr.
Mary Ellen Avery (1993) writes in the opening of Pain in Neonates. “Oh yes, they
cry when restrained and during procedures, but ‘that is different.’” If the tendency
to attribute a mind to others is so automatic and inevitable, then why do people
sometimes fail to attribute a mind to other people?
We believe that both bottom-up perceptual processes as well as top–down
motivational processes cause people to anthropomorphize nonhuman agents.
Elsewhere we have described how perceiving similarity in motion and morphol-
ogy can make an agent that looks humanlike on the outside also be evaluated
as more humanlike on the inside (Epley et al. 2007; see also Harrison and Hall,
2010). Objects with humanlike faces, for instance, are more readily anthropomor-
phized than those without such faces (Johnson 2003), and animals that move at a
humanlike speed are judged to have more humanlike mental capacities than those
who move much faster (e.g., a hummingbird) or much slower (e.g., a sloth) than
humans (Morewedge et al. 2007). These perceptual mechanisms, however, require
that people are already attending to the agent in question, making even these per-
ceptual processes open to influence by the motivational forces that guide atten-
tion. These perceptual mechanisms also cannot explain the wider variety of cases
where minds emerge apart from bodies or any other humanlike perceptual cues.
It cannot explain why people might attribute minds to volatile financial markets
or to weather events or to the design of a randomly evolving universe. It cannot
explain why the vast majority of people find it so easy to imagine the mind of
a God, or Gods, pulling nature’s strings. It cannot explain why people occasion-
ally curse their computers or cars, or why Julia Hill empathized with Luna’s pain.
Instead, these questions require understanding what motivates people to engage
with the mind of another agent. In this chapter, we will describe recent research
identifying important motivational moderators of anthropomorphism, show how
these moderators may also help to explain the inverse processes of dehumaniza-
tion, and highlight what we think are important consequences of this research for
everyday life.
Anthropomorphism as Explanation
Fermilabs, located in suburban Chicago, owns a massive particle accelerator called
the Tevatron. Before being decommissioned in 2011, it worked 24 hours per day,
7 days per week, for nearly 30 years. A team of engineers and physicists directed
Motivated Mind Perception: Treating Pets as People and People as Animals
the Tevatron, people who knew every inch and mechanical detail of the enormous
machine. Todd Johnson, director of the Tevatron, noted that those who work on it
“tend not to see the Tevatron as cold machinery. It has moods and character. They
call it the Tev” (Spitzer 2011). Interestingly, Johnson did not suggest that the Tev
always seems like it has moods and character, but that it does so only some of
the time. “Everything goes like clockwork,” he reported, “and all of a sudden you
get a failure, and something else breaks, and then something else breaks, and it’s
hard not to apply anthropomorphic personality traits to the machine. You hear peo-
ple say, ‘Well, it’s not really happy with us today.’” Why is it “hard not to apply
anthropomorphic personality traits” only when the machine breaks? This descrip-
tion of the Tev does not sound like the automatic anthropomorphism suggested by
Hume and Guthrie. Instead, it is only when the Tev breaks, when it does not work
as it is supposed to, that the Tev gives a glimmer of mind. Mark Giorno, vice pres-
ident of a company that builds robots for war, reports something similar. “You start
to associate personalities with each of them. Their personality comes from, say,
the steering being a little loose” (Singer 2009). Why does their personality not
come from the steering working exactly as it was designed to work?
The reason, we believe, is because a mind is a set of concepts that provides
an intivitive explanation of any independent action. When a robot moves exactly
as it was programmed to move, completely predictably and expectedly, then noth-
ing needs to be explained. The mindless robot moved as it was programmed to
move—what Heider (1958) referred to as “impersonal causality.” But when a
robot starts to move in ways it was not programmed to move, seemingly on its
own, then impersonal forces operating outside the agent are insufficient to explain
behavior. Instead, something inside the agent seems necessary. Maybe moods,
maybe personality, maybe a mind? As Heider explained (1958, p. 100), reasoning
about an agent in terms of its mental states “ties together the cause-effect rela-
tions,” allowing a person to provide an intuitive explanation for almost anything,
from persons to toasters to Tevatrons. “What [anthropomorphic metaphors] all
have in common,” write Lakoff and Johnson (1980, p. 34), “is that they are exten-
sions of ontological metaphors and that they allow us to make sense of phenomena
in the world in human terms—terms that we can understand on the basis of our
own motivations, goals, actions, and characteristics.” This suggests that anthropo-
morphism should increase when people are motivated to explain another agent’s
behavior. A nonhuman agent may therefore be seen as mindless when lacking this
It is important to note that this basic motivation to explain and understand
another’s behavior has historically been taken for granted by psychologists study-
ing social cognition. Indeed, Kelley (1967, p. 193) struggles to explain why his
classic chapter on attribution theory was appropriate for the Nebraska Symposium
on Motivation. The answer is existing research in social cognition implicitly
assumes that person perceivers are motivated already to explain and understand
another agent’s behavior. At a baseline level, person perceivers are assumed to
have what White (1959) referred to as effectance motivation—the motivation to
be effective and competent social agents. “[Attribution] theory,” Kelley explains,
N. Epley et al.
describes processes that operate as if the individual were motivated to attain a cog-
nitive mastery of the causal structure of the environment. Indeed, Heider explic-
itly assumes that “we try to make sense out of the manifold of proximal stimuli…
This broad motivational assumption makes little difference in the development
and application of the theory.” We argue that this broad motivational assumption
makes a significant difference, however, for whether or not people engage with the
mind of another in the first place.
Consider your car. When your car starts up on a cold morning exactly as it is
supposed to, then it is just cold steel. You are unlikely to pause for even a sec-
ond to think about its inner workings. But when it fails to start, then drivers may
find themselves cajoling and caressing and encouraging their “baby” to “wake
up”. In a survey of nearly 900 car owners, Morewedge (2006) asked car owners
to report the extent to which their car seemed to have a mind, including beliefs,
desires, and a personality. He also asked about their car’s reliability—how often
it needed unscheduled service, and how much it malfunctioned for unknown rea-
sons. Consistent with these examples, he found a significant correlation between
mind perception and malfunctioning. The less reliable people found their car to be,
the more they reported that it seemed to have a mind. In a similar survey (Waytz et
al. 2010a, b, c, d), two different samples of university undergraduates were asked
how often they had problems with their computer. One sample was also asked how
often their computer seemed to have “a mind of its own”, whereas the other sam-
ple was asked the extent to which their “computer behaved as if it has its own
beliefs and desires.” In both samples, there was a significant correlation between
malfunctioning and mind perception. The more often students reported having
problems with their computer, the more it seemed to have a mind of its own or to
have beliefs and desires.
So far, all of the examples in this section simply show that unexpected or
unpredictable behavior is correlated with anthropomorphism. They do not show
that unpredictable behavior causes anthropomorphism. These examples also tend
to confound unpredictable behavior with negative behavior. You may curse your
computer or cajole your car when it fails to start, or think that the Tev is not happy
when it fails to operate as expected, not because the behavior is unexpected but
rather because it is negative. Unexpected events are often negative events in every-
day life, but these experiences can be disentangled experimentally.
In one experiment designed to do just that (Waytz et al. 2010d), participants
visiting the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago asked 10 yes or no ques-
tions to a robot named Asimo through a computer interface. Participants were
allowed to ask any questions they wanted. Example questions could range from
“does 9 × 4 = 36?”, to “does my husband love me?”, to “will the Cubs ever win
the World Series?” Depending on experimental condition, Asimo responded either
predictably or unpredictably. In the predictable-yes condition, Asimo responded
“yes” to eight of the questions and “no” to two of the questions. In the predictable-
no condition, Asimo responded “no” to eight of the questions and “yes” to two
of the questions. And in the unpredictable condition, Asimo responded “yes” to
five questions and “no” to five questions, in a random fashion. Participants then
Motivated Mind Perception: Treating Pets as People and People as Animals
reported how mindful Asimo seemed: the extent to which Asimo appeared to
have a mind of its own, intentions, free will, consciousness, desires, beliefs, and
the ability to experience emotions. Participants also reported how attractive, effi-
cient, and strong they found Asimo to be, to measure the extent to which partici-
pants evaluated the predictable versus unpredictable behavior negatively. Results
showed that Asimo seemed the most mindful when he behaved unpredictably, with
no differences between the predictable-yes and predictable-no conditions. No sig-
nificant differences emerged in any of the other measures, suggesting that anthro-
pomorphism in this experiment stemmed from unpredictability rather than from
It is easy to imagine that results like these reflect ways of talking more than
they do ways of thinking. That is, saying that your computer “has a mind of its
own” is not the same as really thinking that your computer truly has beliefs and
desires and emotions. The engineers that run the Tevatron know, at least explic-
itly, that the Tev does not really have moods; they are just speaking metaphori-
cally. This is almost certainly true to some extent, but neuroimaging now allows
psychologists to identify whether this is true to the fullest extent. The reason is
that there are distinct neural regions that identify when people are thinking about
their own and others’ mental states. Perhaps the most reliable of these is the
medial prefrontal cortex. Activity in this region can therefore be used to index the
degree to which people anthropomorphize nonhuman agents (Castelli et al. 2002;
Martin and Weisberg 2003). When a person cajoles her car to start on a cold win-
ter morning or claims his computer has a mind of its own, is the mPFC active sug-
gesting that people may be thinking quite literally about the mind of their car or
To find out, participants in one experiment read descriptions of a variety of
different gadgets (Waytz et al. 2010d). Some of these gadgets were described
as being very unpredictable, whereas others were described as being very pre-
dictable. For instance, one of the gadgets was an alarm clock called “Clocky”.
This alarm clock has wheels on the side that spin when the user presses the
alarm clock a second time, sending the alarm clock rolling around the room and
requiring the snoozer to actually get up out of bed to shut it off. In the predict-
able description of Clocky, participants read that, “You can program Clocky so
that when you press snooze, it runs away from you or you can program it so that
when you press snooze, it will jump on top of you.” In the unpredictable descrip-
tion, Clocky’s behavior was described as being out of the user’s control: “When
you press snooze, Clocky either runs away from you, or it jumps on top of you.
Outside the fMRI scanner, participants read descriptions of 32 different gadgets,
half described as predictable and half as unpredictable. Inside the scanner, partici-
pants then evaluated the extent to which each gadget had “a mind of its own”, as
the measure of anthropomorphism. Consistent with our account, participants were
more likely to report that the unpredictable gadgets had a mind of its own than the
predictable gadgets. More important, subsequent analyses confirmed that the ven-
tromedial prefrontal cortex was reliably more active when evaluating unpredicta-
ble versus predictable gadgets, and that differences in this neural activity predicted
N. Epley et al.
differences in the extent to which participants anthropomorphized the gadgets.
Reporting that one’s computer has a mind of its own is not simply a way of speak-
ing, but is a literal way of thinking.
The critical component of our account is that attributing a mind to a nonhuman
agent is not purely automatic, but is rather triggered by distinct motivational states.
Motivational explanations for behavior, such as our account of anthropomorphism,
make three unique predictions that purely nonmotivational accounts do not make.
First, motivational accounts predict that people who are especially motivated to
explain and understand an agent’s behavior should also be the ones most likely to
anthropomorphize it, holding all else constant. One experiment (Epley et al. 2008)
examined this prediction by first measuring participants’ Desire for Control, an
individual difference that serves as an indirect measure of people’s motivation for
mastery and understanding. Sample items from the scale include, “I like to get a
good idea of what a job is all about before I begin,” and “I enjoy having control
over my own destiny.” Participants then watched a short video of two dogs, one
that moved slowly and predictably and another that moved quickly and unpredict-
ably. Participants then reported their impressions of each of the dogs, as a meas-
ure of anthropomorphism. Participants reported the extent to which each dog was
aware of its emotions, appeared to have conscious will, the extent to which it had
a “personality,” and also rated its similarity to other life forms on a scale rang-
ing from 1 (bacteria) to 11 (human). The results, combined across these measures,
showed that those high in desire for control were more likely to anthropomorphize
than those low in desire for control, but only for the dog that behaved unpredict-
ably. A humanlike mind emerged only in the dog that needed an explanation, and
only among those who were particularly interested in having an explanation.
Second, motivational accounts predict that increasing motivation should
increase the associated behavior. If people eat food because they are motivated by
hunger, then making people hungry should increase eating. If anthropomorphism
is triggered by the motivation to explain an agent’s behavior, then increasing that
motivation should increase anthropomorphism. Consistent with this possibility,
participants in one experiment evaluated a robot after watching six brief videos
of it in action (Waytz et al. 2010d). Some participants were motivated to explain
the agent’s behavior by asking them to predict what the robot would do after the
end of each video and then paying them $1 for each correct prediction. The other
participants were not motivated in this way. All participants then evaluated the
robot’s mental capacities: the extent to which they believed the robot had a mind
of its own, intentions, desires, was conscious, and could experience emotions.
Consistent with our motivational account, those incentivized to explain the robot’s
behavior also anthropomorphized it significantly more than those who were not
Finally, motivational accounts predict that engaging in a motivated behavior
should satisfy the motivational state. If people eat food when they are motivated
by hunger, then making people eat should satisfy their hunger. If people anthro-
pomorphize nonhuman agents partly because they are motivated to explain the
agent’s behavior, then not only should this motivation increase anthropomorphism,
Motivated Mind Perception: Treating Pets as People and People as Animals
but asking people to anthropomorphize should also provide satisfying explanation.
To test this possibility, participants in one experiment watched videos of four dif-
ferent agents (a dog, robot, alarm clock, and geometric shapes). Participants were
asked to describe two of these videos anthropomorphically and two objectively
(based on random assignment). For those they were asked to describe anthropo-
morphically, participants were told to “think about it in the same way you would
about other people… and to treat it as if it had humanlike traits, emotions, and
intentions.” For those they were to describe objectively, they were asked to
“remain detached and think only about the observable behaviors it is performing
and think about it as you might think about any other unfamiliar gadget… Watch
its behavior closely and try to remain objective.” Participants did as they were told,
writing either anthropomorphic or objective descriptions of each agent they saw.
When finished, participants reported how much they felt they were able to pre-
dict the agent’s behavior in the future, as an indication of a satisfying explanation
(White 1959).
Consistent with our motivational account, people reported feeling better able
to predict the behavior of the agents they anthropomorphized compared to those
they were asked to treat objectively. Heider and Simmel suggested this possibility
for anthropomorphism many years before these data when describing their clas-
sic video of geometric shapes moving around a hinged box that quickly take on a
mental life of their own:
As long as the pattern of events shown in the film is perceived in terms of movements
as such, it presents a chaos of juxtaposed items. When, however, the geometrical figures
assume personal characteristics, so that their movements are perceived in terms of motives
and sentiments, a unified structure appears… But motives and sentiments are psychologi-
cal entities… They are “mentalistic concepts”, so-called intervening variables that bring
order into the array of behavior mediating them.
(Heider and Simmel 1944, pp. 31–32).
Without the language of mind, explanations of behavior provide no sense of
understanding (even if the sense is, objectively speaking, illusory). Donald Hebb
(1946) described a similar experience trying to avoid anthropomorphizing the
chimpanzees in his care at the Yerkes Primate Laboratory:
A thoroughgoing attempt to avoid anthropomorphic description in the study of temperament
was made over a two-year period at the Yerkes laboratories. All that resulted was an almost
endless series of specific acts in which no order or meaning could be found. On the other
hand, by the use of frankly anthropomorphic concepts of emotion and attitude one could
quickly and easily describe the peculiarities of individual animals… Whatever the anthropo-
morphic terminology may seem to imply about conscious states in chimpanzee, it provides
an intelligible and practical guide to behavior (p. 88).
Even psychological science went through a period during the 1940s and 1950s
when behaviorists disavowed all mentalistic language as subjective nonsense,
insisting on describing behavior only in terms of its observable qualities. Human
beings were, in essence, stripped of their minds altogether. Behaviorism ultimately
failed to take over psychology not only because underlying cognitive processes
really do matter for understanding behavior (Baumeister et al. 2011), but also
N. Epley et al.
because behaviorism never really provided an explanation of behavior that any
kind of psychologist would find satisfying (Chomsky 1957).
We believe the results reviewed in this section make two important points.
First, people tend to attribute minds to other agents when they are in search
of explanations, and tend to overlook the minds of others when nothing needs
explaining. When your car, or cat, or particle accelerator works in a perfectly
predictable fashion, it seems mindless. But when something unexpected hap-
pens, then a mind may emerge as a suitable explanation, producing anthropomor-
phism. The same happens with humans. The factory worker who does the same
thing over and over and over becomes mindlessly predictable. The boss who
views employees as a means to reaching another goal rather than an end to be
explained in themselves views their employees as mindless objects (Gruenfeld et
al. 2008). And doctors who are charged with explaining disease and physical dis-
orders can find themselves quite unintentionally overlooking the minds of their
patients (Haque and Waytz 2012). Second, anthropomorphic explanations are
satisfying only when other explanations are unavailable. The language of men-
tal states is an intuitive explanation for the behavior of almost any agent, but as
more about an agent is learned, the tendency to use these default explanations
should decrease as well. Hume was on to this when he argued that anthropomor-
phism stems from human being’s “absolute ignorance of causes” (1757/1957, p.
xix). Indeed, research demonstrates that rural children anthropomorphize nonhu-
man animals less than do urban children, presumably because rural children have
more direct contact, experience, and knowledge of these animals than do urban
children (Medin and Atran 2004). Anthropomorphism may be triggered by the
need to explain behavior, but it is certainly not the only explanation that can be
Anthropomorphism as Connection
The motive to explain behavior may partly explain anthropomorphism, but it is
a terrible explanation for Julia Hill’s anthropomorphic sense of Luna. Redwood
trees sway in the breeze, but mostly they just stand there. They do not walk or talk.
They do not move on their own. There is no event calling out for explanation, and
no reason to suspect that Julia is pathologically driven by a motivation to under-
stand or comprehend her universe in a way that would lead her to explain behavior
that others do not observe.
There is also no perceptual trigger that would lead a person to think of the mind
in a tree, no cues that this behemoth is in some way similar to a person or to the
self. There is no humanlike face or humanlike motion. Trees are not lifeless, but
they move so slowly that their behavior is detectable only through time-lapsed
photography. Julia Hill’s sense that she was receiving instructions from Luna, was
hearing her inner voice, was feeling her suffering, did not come from any obvious
physical feature of the tree itself. It came from something else.
Motivated Mind Perception: Treating Pets as People and People as Animals
Like any complicated phenomenon, attributing a mind to another agent is
multiply determined. Another agent’s mind matters not only for explaining the
other agent’s behavior, but also for forming a deep social connection with the
other agent. To see this, think about trying to form a connection with someone on
a first date. You start by being extremely sensitive to how you are coming across
to the other person. You choose your clothes carefully to convey just the right kind
of impression, and watch your words even more carefully to make sure you do not
convey the wrong impression. You try to keep track of your date’s preferences and
interests, trying to ferret out the person’s true attitudes and beliefs to see if you
are a match made in heaven or hell. This guessing game requires a great deal of
perspective taking, trying to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, trying to get
beyond surface appearances, and trying to think carefully about the other person’s
mind. Connecting with others requires mentalizing. This suggests that the motive
to connect with others, or simply having a more approach oriented motivation
toward others, may be an important motivational determinant of attributing a mind
to another agent, whether it is a person or not. Luna became a mindful agent for
Julia Hill because of a tight social connection, one that led her to recognize a mind
in this tree that everyone else who was more disconnected would never recognize.
Several pieces of evidence suggest that a motivation to connect with others
can increase anthropomorphism. First, some animals are more readily anthropo-
morphized than others. Just after a major earthquake struck Japan in 2011, for
instance, a picture of a Panda Bear hugging the leg of a zookeeper made its way
around the Internet. Ostensibly, this Panda was scared after an earthquake and was
cuddling with its keeper for comfort. Notice how easy it is to make this inference
about the mind of a panda. It is cute, cuddly, and exactly the kind of animal a per-
son would naturally move close to. It is easy for such an approachable and likeable
animal to seem mindful (even if the animal itself is actually reclusive and aggres-
sive, like a real Panda Bear). In fact, biologists believe that the domestication of
dogs was driven by “anthropomorphic selection” of traits that best enabled people
to recognize a mind in their pet (Serpell 2003). The big eyes and baby-faced fea-
tures of domestic dogs are much more approachable and socially engaging than
the narrow eyes and long faces of their wolf ancestors.
But what if you saw a rat clinging to its zookeeper? Would you be as likely
to believe it was scared after an earthquake? Probably not, and it is not simply
because a rat’s brain is smaller. Cuteness prompts social engagement, and may
therefore lead to anthropomorphism, whereas ugliness prompts social disengage-
ment and avoidance (see Sherman and Haidt 2011 for a review). In one intrigu-
ing experiment, participants looked at a picture of cute baby animals or of their
less-cute adult equivalents (Sherman and Chandler 2012). Participants then evalu-
ated four easily anthropomorphized gadgets (such as Clocky, described earlier).
Participants reported that they would be more likely to anthropomorphize each
gadget (specifically, to give it a name, to refer to it as “he” or “she” rather than
“it”, and to talk to it) after looking at the cute baby animals than after looking
at the adult animals. Although this study did not measure the attribution of men-
tal states directly, it provides some evidence that the approach-oriented motivation
N. Epley et al.
that most people feel from seeing cute animals might prime anthropomorphic
thinking, such that it then extends to other targets as well.
More direct evidence for a link between the motivation to connect with oth-
ers and anthropomorphism comes from a study investigating perceptions of other
humanlike minds. In these experiments, participants reported their impressions of
the mental capacities of a very likeable or unlikeable person. Results demonstrated
that the likeable person was rated as being more mindful than the unlikeable per-
son (e.g., as having more complete feelings, being more capable of experiencing
pleasure and pain, being more able to engage in a great deal of thought; Kozak
et al. 2006). Neuroimaging evidence also demonstrates that regions of the brain
that are reliably active when reasoning about the mental states of others are more
active when people think about close others than when people think about more
distant others (Krienen et al. 2010). This is surely part of the reason why ingroup
members are rated as having consistently stronger mental capacities, such as the
capacity to experience secondary emotions like love or joy or shame or guilt, than
are outgroup members (Leyens et al. 2000). Minds emerge as others become more
closely connected to one’s own mind.
This importance of connection, it appears, even extends to our cars. In a sur-
vey described earlier in this chapter, people were asked to report the extent to
which their cars seemed to have a “mind of its own” or to have its own “beliefs
and desires” (Morewedge 2006). Earlier we reported that people rated their car as
more mindful when it behaved less reliably or expectedly. But the strongest pre-
dictor of anthropomorphism in this survey was how much people reported liking
their car. The more people liked their car, the more they perceived it to have a
mind of its own.
The strongest evidence for the role of approach-oriented motivation in anthro-
pomorphism, however, comes from experiments that either measure or manipu-
late people’s motivation to connect with others directly. For instance, people in
one survey completed a short measure of loneliness, and then rank ordered a list
of 14 different traits that could be used to describe their pet (or a pet they knew
well), from those that best described their pet to those that least described their
pet. This list included three anthropomorphic traits related to providing social con-
nection (thoughtful, considerate, and supportive), three anthropomorphic traits
unrelated to providing social connection (embarrassable, creative, devious, and
jealous), and seven nonanthropomorphic traits that are simply behavioral descrip-
tions (aggressive, agile, active, energetic, fearful, lethargic, and muscular). Results
demonstrated a small, albeit statistically significant, correlation between loneliness
and the average rank of the supportive anthropomorphic traits, r (167) = 0.18.
Loneliness was unrelated to rankings of the other traits.
A more recent test of this hypothesis by independent researchers (McConnell
et al. 2011) using a more self-selected sample of pet owners (those recruited
online for a “personality and pet evaluation” survey), also included a large num-
ber of additional questionnaires and assessed the correlation between loneliness
and the ratings (rather than rankings) of the extent to which anthropomorphic
traits describe a person’s own pet on scales ranging from 1 (not at all true) to 9
Motivated Mind Perception: Treating Pets as People and People as Animals
(completely true). This survey found a slightly smaller (and statistically nonsig-
nificant) relationship between loneliness and the scale ratings of anthropomorphic
traits, r = 0.12, with a similar sample size. These authors also found a slightly
stronger (and statistically significant) relationship between depression, another
measure related to social wellbeing, and the extent to which people anthropomor-
phized their pets, r = 0.19. We think these results suggest that the relationship
between loneliness and the tendency to anthropomorphize one’s pet is likely to
be weak, but weakly positive. Notice that pets are complicated targets of evalua-
tion because much is already known about them, and so reflexive inferences (such
as anthropomorphism) are likely to be minimized (Epley et al. 2007; Medin and
Atran 2004). Notice also that if pets actually do provide significant social support
because people treat them as humanlike companions, then anthropomorphizing
one’s pet should also reduce people’s feelings of loneliness. Indeed, a survey of
1,000 pet owners revealed that 50% view their pet to be as much a part of the
family as any other person in the household, with 25% even reporting that their
pet is a “better listener than their spouse.” Consistent with this, McConnell et al.
(2011) found that thinking of a person’s pet provided just as much of a psycho-
logical buffer to the pain of being socially rejected as thinking about one’s best
(human) friend. Another experiment reported that participants who were ostra-
cized by another human being did not experience the same distress if they were in
the presence of a dog than when they were alone (Aydin et al. 2012).
A better test of the relationship between approach oriented motivation and
anthropomorphism would examine unfamiliar targets that do not provide any
actual social support. We know of two experiments that have used such targets.
In one survey, participants evaluated four different gadgets (such as Clocky)
and then reported the extent to which each seemed to: have a mind of its own,
have intentions, have free will, and experience emotions. Results demonstrated
a significant, and large (r = 0.53, n = 20), relationship between loneliness and
the average amount of mind attributed to these gadgets (Epley et al. 2008a).
In another survey (Waytz et al. 2012), participants looked at images of celes-
tial bodies taken from the Hubble telescope. For each one, participants again
reported the extent to which each seemed to have a mind. And again, the more
lonely people were, the more they anthropomorphized these objects in the uni-
verse (r = 0.51, n = 28).
These correlational findings suggest that the motivation to connect with oth-
ers may increase anthropomorphism, but they obviously cannot provide evidence
for this particular causal relationship. Equally plausible is that anthropomorphiz-
ing pets or gadgets or the universe makes people disconnected from other people.
Demonstrating a causal link between the motivation to connect with others and
subsequent anthropomorphism would require manipulating people’s motivation to
connect and then measuring anthropomorphism.
In one test following this design (Epley et al. 2008a), participants in one con-
dition were induced to feel lonely by watching a short clip from the movie Cast
Away in which the main protagonist (Tom Hanks) finds himself utterly alone on
a deserted island. In another condition, participants were made to feel fearful by
N. Epley et al.
watching a scary scene from the movie Silence of the Lambs. In a third condition,
people watched a neutral clip taken from the movie Major League, a clip in which
the main protagonists were neither afraid nor alone. In all cases, participants were
asked to put themselves in the main protagonist’s shoes and try to experience
the emotions that he or she was feeling. After watching these clips, participants
then evaluated a pet that they either owned or knew well, again rank ordering 14
traits from those that best described their pet to those that least described their pet.
Those made to feel lonely were more likely to describe their pet using support-
ive anthropomorphic traits than whose made to feel afraid or those in the control
condition. As an additional measure related to anthropomorphism, these partici-
pants also reported the extent to which they believed in a variety of supernatural
agents, including God, the devil, and angels. One prominent theory of religion is
that these agents are themselves the product of anthropomorphizing natural events
(Guthrie 1993), one that is a byproduct of people’s ability to reason about the
minds of others (Bering 2006; Atran and Norenzayan 2004). Consistent with this
account, this experiment also found that those induced to feel lonely also reported
a stronger belief in these religious agents than those in the fear or control condi-
tions (see also Aydin et al. 2010; Epley et al. 2008, Exp. 2; Gebauer and Maio
Altogether, we believe these results demonstrate that the motivation to connect
with others enables anthropomorphism, and that we are more likely to attribute a
mind to agents to which we are closely connected than those with which we are
disconnected. These attempts to humanize nonhuman agents by giving them a
mind appears to be satisfying, although it is not entirely clear based on the existing
research whether the social support people derive from their pets or their connec-
tions to religious agents come from their anthropomorphic qualities in particular.
What is clear at this time, we believe, is that minds emerge in others as people
attempt to get close to others, regardless of whether “others” are people, pets, or—
in the case of Julia Hill—a particularly large tree.
From Motivated Anthropomorphism to Unmotivated
Person Perception
The scientific study of anthropomorphism has always existed at the fringes of psy-
chological science. For some researchers, the main concern is not understanding
the psychological processes that trigger and guide anthropomorphism, but rather
whether it is accurate or not. This requires studying the minds of animals or Gods
or machines, and so the problem is shifted to animal behaviorists or theologians
or computer scientists. For other researchers, anthropomorphism seems more silly
than serious, an exercise in talking with metaphors or failing to outgrow childish
ways of thinking. But for most relevant researchers, psychology is about the inter-
actions between those who have a psyche—that is, between human beings in their
everyday social lives. How people think about non people is not a central topic.
Motivated Mind Perception: Treating Pets as People and People as Animals
And so the study of anthropomorphism is the kind of topic within psychology that
gets discussed in the hallways of major conferences rather than in the main meet-
ing rooms.
In some ways, this is as it should be. It is interesting to know whether our pets
are capable of the kind of thinking we attribute to them (Horowitz 2009), and
anthropomorphism is sometimes just a way of speaking that diminishes as people
get older. There are also more pressing matters for psychologists to attend to than
whether an alarm clock seems to have a mind of its own or why a woman might
think she is receiving instructions from a tree. Psychology, particularly social psy-
chology, should always be firmly focused on human social interaction, because it
is what ordinary perceivers care the most about.
We think, however, it is time to bring research on anthropomorphism out of
the hallways and into the meeting rooms, because its careful study tells us a great
deal about how people think about other people. In particular, we think it tells us
a great deal about why people sometimes fail to attribute minds to other people
(dehumanization), why some people seem particularly unable to reason about the
minds of others (such as individuals with autism spectrum disorders), and why
most people are actually less social than they should be for their own wellbeing.
Dehumanization. Anthropomorphism, we believe, is guided by the basic mech-
anisms that govern engagement with the minds of others. When other minds mat-
ter, either because they need to be explained or they are desired sources of social
connection, then a person may employ their capacity to reason about the minds
of others. When other minds are irrelevant—there is no motivation to explain
or connect with the minds of others—then this capacity may not be employed.
Reasoning about the minds of others is not a default state. It requires some moti-
vation to engage with the minds of others. Instead of being an automatic process
employed nearly universally, it is a tool that people must be motivated to use.
The motivated nature of mind attribution is often overlooked in research involv-
ing other people, because the presence of mind in others is generally assumed.
However, the inverse process of anthropomorphism when evaluating other peo-
ple is dehumanization—failing to attribute humanlike mental capacities to other
people, and therefore evaluating (or treating) them as relatively mindless animals
or objects. Historically, dehumanization has been considered to be a product of
antipathy. The Nazis dehumanized the Jews, the Hutus dehumanized the Tutsis,
and whites in the United States have dehumanized blacks presumably out of
hatred and prejudice. Research on anthropomorphism, however, suggests that a
different mechanism may also be at work in some of these cases. Instead of antipa-
thy, dehumanization may result from apathy—indifference to the minds of others.
As George Bernard Shaw (1901) pointed out, “the worst sin towards our fellow
creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them. That’s the essence of
inhumanity.” Might being indifferent to the minds of other people lead to dehu-
manization of those people, which could in turn generate some of the hatred and
dislike commonly observed in cases of dehumanization?
Several findings are consistent with this account. Being in a position of power,
for instance, enables freedom to pursue one’s own goals and a diminished need
N. Epley et al.
to rely on others. Those in positions of high power are therefore less attentive to
other people than are those in low positions of power (Fiske 1993). When power-
ful people do need others to achieve their goals, they appear more likely to objec-
tify them as instrumental tools needed to achieve one’s own goals than people
who are in low positions of power. (Gruenfeld et al. 2008). Such objectification
does not come from some deep-seeded hatred of the powerless by the powerful,
but rather from indifference to the full complement of mental attributes that make
other people fully human.
High social status yields similar results, with those who think they are of high
social status being more indifferent (less compassionate) to the suffering of others
than those who think they are of low social status (Van Kleef et al. 2009). Again,
being at the top of the social hierarchy need not make people hate those who are
lower on the social hierarchy to produce these results. It could come from in difer-
ence to the minds of others. In one experiment, those high in social status were
less able to recognize another person’s emotion from a photograph than those who
were relatively low in social status (Kraus et al. 2010).
Most directly relevant to this hypothesis, one series of experiments sug-
gests that satisfying people’s motivation to connect with other people can actu-
ally increase the tendency to dehumanize more distant others (Waytz and Epley
2012). In one experiment, participants who wrote about someone they felt closely
connected to were more likely to dehumanize outgroup members (in particular, to
see them as having weaker mental capacities) than those who wrote about some-
one to whom they were not connected. These outgroups spanned the spectrum
of social evalvations (Harris and Fiske 2006), including groups high and low in
warmth (e.g., middle class Americans vs. drug addicts) as well as those high and
low in competence (e.g., rich people vs. disabled people). No differences in liking
for these groups emerged, demonstrating that dehumanization can emerge without
disliking. In another experiment, participants reported their impressions of terror-
ist detainees while sitting on opposite sides of a room with one’s friend or with a
stranger. Those who arrived at the lab and participated with a friend should feel
more socially connected than those who arrived and participated with a stranger.
Consistent with our hypothesis, those in a room with a friend also dehumanized
the mental capacities of these detainees more than those who participated with a
stranger, and as a result was also more willing to endorse the use of harsh interro-
gation tactics on these detainees. A more recent study suggested that merely being
reminded of close social connections by using one’s cell phone or viewing an
image of the cell phone decreased prosocial behavior toward strangers, also sug-
gesting that social connection can increase dehumanization (Abraham et al. 2012;
see also Bastian and Haslam 2010). Being part of a tightly connected group is
good for a person’s own health and happiness, but it may not be good for enabling
them to connect with the minds of more distant others.
At this point, there is not enough evidence to say whether apathy—the lack
of motivation to connect with other minds—plays a bigger or smaller causal role
in cases of dehumanization than antipathy—an outright hatred or dislike of other
mind. However, we think psychologists would do well to remember a version of
Motivated Mind Perception: Treating Pets as People and People as Animals
“Hanlon’s Law:” never attribute to malice that which can be attributed to stupidity.
The objectification of women or the dehumanization of outgroups or the animalistic
tendencies attributed to those who are distant from one’s own mind may result from
the lack of motivation to think more carefully about the minds of others rather than
from explicit prejudice toward these others.
Atypical social cognition. The modal course of human development has chil-
dren learning about the minds of others from the very instant they are born, or at
least as early as mothers will allow their infants to be studied by psychologists.
In these early moments, infants will orient toward their mother’s voice (DeCasper
and Fifer 1980), imitate another person’s behavior (Meltzoff and Moore 1977),
and will look preferentially at human faces (Sherrod 1979). This early social moti-
vation provides the input necessary to develop an understanding of how other
minds work, and enables the social capacities that eventually allow people to rea-
son in sophisticated detail about the minds of others. Not all infants, however, fol-
low this modal path. Some adults, namely those diagnosed with autism, seem to
lack these most basic social skills. The dominant view among psychologists over
the last 20 years has been that those diagnosed with autism lack the fundamental
ability to reason about other minds. In particular, they lack the neural module that
allows people to theorize about how other minds work (Baron-Cohen 1995).
This view is changing. In particular, research now suggests that the social defi-
cits observed in autism may stem from a lack of motivation to connect with the
minds of others rather than from an inherent inability to do so (Chevallier et al.
2012a, b). Those diagnosed with autism, from infancy, seem relatively indiffer-
ent to other people compared to normally developing infants. Within the first year
of age, those later diagnosed with autism show diminished sensitivity to hearing
their own name, are more socially distant, and exhibit less eye contact (Jones et
al. 2008; Osterling et al. 2002). As they age, those later diagnosed with autism do
not look at other people in social scenes as normally developing children do but
instead look at background objects (Riby and Hancock 2008; see also Klin et al.
2002). As adults, those with autism do not seem to experience either the pains or
pleasures—key elements of any motivational system—of connecting with others.
Those with autism do not behave more desirably when in the presence of others,
suggesting diminished interest in managing their impressions in the eyes of others
(Chevallier et al. 2012b; Izuma et al. 2011). Those with autism typically report
having no friends (Howlin et al. 2004), but do not report the pain of feeling lonely
as do normally developed adults (Chamberlain et al. 2007). Most important, moti-
vating those with autism to perform better on social tasks does increase their per-
formance, consistent with a deficit in the motivation to reason about others rather
than an inability to do so (for a review see Chevallier et al. 2012a).
This view of diminished social motivation rather than diminished social abil-
ity is also consistent with some findings from the social psychological literature
involving normally developed adults. For instance, women tend to reason some-
what more accurately about the minds of others than do men, a gender difference
that is pronounced enough among those with autism that Baron Cohen has referred
to the autism as a case of the “extreme male brain” (2002). However, gender
N. Epley et al.
differences in performance on social cognitive tasks between men and women are
often relatively small (Ickes 2003), and some seem to be produced by differences
in motivation rather than differences in actual ability (Graham and Ickes 1997).
When men are more motivated to reason about the minds of others, then gender
differences are reduced (if not eliminated; Hall and Schmid-Mast 2008; Ickes et al.
2000). Men and women may not differ as much in their ability to reason about the
minds of others as they do in their interest in doing so.
We think this emerging view of autism may call for a reinterpretation of some
existing evidence in the psychological literature. Most relevant to anthropomor-
phism, one well-known lesion study described a patient with amygdala damage
who seemed to exhibit good social functioning but did not anthropomorphize
the classic Heider and Simmel (1944) video of geometric shapes. Heberlein and
Adolphs (2004) interpreted this deficit as stemming from an inability to process
emotional information. However, the amygdala does not seem to be involved
with emotional processes as much as it is a marker for motivational relevance in
the brain, one that identifies stimuli that deserve attention and those that do not
(Cunningham and Brosch 2012). Instead of an inability to process emotions, we
think this lesion patient lacked the motivational trigger necessary to care about
explaining the shapes in the first place. Indeed, those diagnosed with autism also
show differences in amygdala responses to social stimuli, a finding again consist-
ent with a lack of motivation to attend to social stimuli rather than an inability
to do so. As any parent of a poor-performing high school student will attest, it is
good to remember that differences in performance may not reflect differences in
ability but rather differences in interest and effort.
Personal wellbeing. Normally developed adults do not have autism, but they
sometimes act like they might. Although Aristotle argued “man is by nature a
social animal,” it is not at all uncommon for people to come in close contact with
strangers and completely ignore each other. Every day in waiting rooms and coffee
shops, walking on sidewalks or standing on street corners, sitting on planes and
trains, people can be mere inches from another person and treat that person as they
would a lampshade.
As social as human beings seem to be, and as much as people’s ability to
connect with the minds of others enables both happiness and health (Diener and
Seligman 2002), people can at times seem completely unmotivated to use their
unique social skills. In the modern world, the human motivation to consume
food seems miscalibrated in a way that pushes people toward consuming too
much. In the modern world, where most social interactions are relatively safe
and opportunities to interact with outgroups is widespread, is the human moti-
vation to connect with others biased toward “consuming” too little? The expe-
riences of ignoring others in waiting rooms or on planes is not all that much
different from the social indifference observed among those diagnosed with
autism, and is an everyday form of indifference toward others. Would people be
happier if they were more motivated to actually use their ability to reason about
others’ minds? If all of us became just a little bit more socially motivated than
we already are?
Motivated Mind Perception: Treating Pets as People and People as Animals
Consider three sets of experiments that look at the consequences of increasing
social motivation. In one, participants were asked to act extroverted or introverted.
In both a 2-week diary study and in a 1-hour laboratory discussion group span-
ning, participants were happier being extroverted than introverted (Fleeson et al.
In another (Epley and Schroeder 2012), commuters in Chicago traveling on
trains and in busses were assigned randomly to one of three conditions. In one
condition, participants were asked to be more social: to try to connect with a per-
son sitting next to them on their ride. In the second condition, participants were
asked to be less social: to keep to themselves and “enjoy your solitude”. In the
third, participants were asked to do whatever they normally do. Both on the trains
and on the busses, those asked to connect with the person sitting next to them
reported having a more pleasant commute and were in a better mood than those
asked to “enjoy their solitude”. Interestingly, there was also no reported differ-
ence between conditions in how productive people reported their commute to be.
Connecting with a stranger is more pleasant than sitting alone, but no less produc-
tive. If connecting with others makes people happier and healthier, then why do
people not connect? Additional experiments provided the answer: Because people
in these contexts appear to believe that connecting with others will be unpleas-
ant. When commuters from the same populations were asked to predict how they
would feel in each of these conditions, they consistently predicted having the least
pleasant, least positive, and least productive commute when they tried to connect
with another person. Evolution can give people the social tools that enable happi-
ness and health, but it may not set them at the optimal level of motivation in mod-
ern life to use them.
Few would argue that you can have mental experiences without a brain, which
means that no amount of arguing would convince most people that a tree is capa-
ble of giving instructions, screaming in pain, or suffering when cut. Those who
might argue otherwise can sound crazy or delusional, as people who might be suf-
fering from some kind of psychological disorder or stuck in some infantile stage
of development. We have tried in this chapter to take such extreme cases of anthro-
pomorphism—cases when a person attributes a mind to a nonhuman agent—and
describe the perfectly normal processes that might explain it.
We have argued that this phenomenon is guided by the same psychological
processes that enable people to reason about the minds of other persons, and that
those processes are guided at their most fundamental levels by two basic human
motivations—the motivation to explain or understand another’s behavior and the
motivation to form a social connection with another agent. Far from being an
automatic psychological process, attributing a mind to another agent first requires
engagement with that agent, a reason to care about the mind of that agent, and a
N. Epley et al.
reason to think about the inner mind of that agent. Lacking this motivation, we
believe, is also central to instances of dehumanization in which people fail to rec-
ognize the mind of another out of apathy, gives insight into specific social cogni-
tive disorders (such as autism), and can lead people to subtly treat others as objects
in their everyday lives in ways that diminish one’s own happiness. Understanding
how specific motivations guide the inferences people make about the inner lives
of others helps to explain the most fundamental divide in all of social life—the
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... Humans anthropomorphize non-human agents by attributing minds to them [30]. Specifically, humans anthropomorphize non-human objects or agents by attributing humanlike characteristics, motivations, intentions, and emotions to them in response to their imagined or real behavior [31]. ...
... The authors suggested that social robots were possibly perceived as unsettling by dispositionally lonely individuals, who are more prone to interpret their social surroundings as threatening [50], [11], [36]. Also, when the motivational factors of anthropomorphism are present, anthropomorphism is facilitated; yet, when they are lacking, the tendency to anthropomorphize nonhumans declines [30]. Given this, the authors also expected that lonely participants were less motivated to efficiently engage or connect with others, inhibiting the influence of the aforementioned two factors [36]. ...
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Loneliness is a distressing personal experience and a growing social issue. Social robots could alleviate the pain of loneliness, particularly for those who lack in-person interaction. This paper investigated how the effect of loneliness on the anthropomorphism of social robots differs by robot appearance, and how it influences purchase intention. Participants viewed a video of one of the three robots (machine-like, animal-like, and human-like) moving and interacting with a human counterpart. Bootstrapped multiple regression results revealed that although the unique effect of animal-likeness on anthropomorphism compared to human-likeness was higher, lonely individuals' tendency to anthropomorphize the animal-like robot was lower than that of the human-like robot. This moderating effect remained significant after covariates were included. Bootstrapped mediation analysis showed that anthropomorphism had both a positive direct effect on purchase intent and a positive indirect effect mediated by likability. Our results suggest that lonely individuals' tendency of anthropomorphizing social robots should not be summarized into one unified inclination. Moreover, by extending the effect of loneliness on anthropomorphism to likability and purchase intent, this current study explored the potential of social robots to be adopted as companions of lonely individuals in their real life. Lastly, we discuss the practical implications of the current study for designing social robots.
... This has been referred to as the "human nature" aspect of humanness (Haslam, 2006). As a perceptual dimension, both real humans (Epley et al., 2013;S€ oderlund, 2020) and non-humans (Bastian et al., 2012;Kim and Sundar, 2012;Powers and Kiesler, 2006) have been assessed in terms of perceived humanness. This variable has been included in the present study because it is frequently assumed that the perceived humanness of an artificial agent boosts humans' acceptance and enhances the comfort with which they interact with it (Epley, 2018;Kahn et al., 2007). ...
Purpose Service robots are expected to become increasingly common, but the ways in which they can move around in an environment with humans, collect and store data about humans and share such data produce a potential for privacy violations. In human-to-human contexts, such violations are transgression of norms to which humans typically react negatively. This study examines if similar reactions occur when the transgressor is a robot. The main dependent variable was the overall evaluation of the robot. Design/methodology/approach Service robot privacy violations were manipulated in a between-subjects experiment in which a human user interacted with an embodied humanoid robot in an office environment. Findings The results show that the robot's violations of human privacy attenuated the overall evaluation of the robot and that this effect was sequentially mediated by perceived robot morality and perceived robot humanness. Given that a similar reaction pattern would be expected when humans violate other humans' privacy, the present study offers evidence in support of the notion that humanlike non-humans can elicit responses similar to those elicited by real humans. Practical implications The results imply that designers of service robots and managers in firms using such robots for providing service to employees should be concerned with restricting the potential for robots' privacy violation activities if the goal is to increase the acceptance of service robots in the habitat of humans. Originality/value To date, few empirical studies have examined reactions to service robots that violate privacy norms.
... Increased rates of loneliness, similar to increased rates of anthropomorphism, often contradict theories of autism. Some, for instance, suggest that autism can be understood as a condition characterized by decreased social motivation (Chevallier et al., 2012), which would reduce a tendency to anthropomorphise (Epley et al., 2013). However, as reflected in Caruana et al. (2021), autistic traits are often found to be associated with loneliness (Jobe & Williams White, 2007;Lamport & Zlomke, 2014;Mazurek, 2013), highlighting that while those on the spectrum may be more alone, they are not insensitive to their social exclusion. ...
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People often see the human in the nonhuman, a process called anthropomorphism. Anthropomorphism is particularly prolific regarding the humanization of pets. Some research suggests that people with autism may not anthropomorphize to the same degree as neurotypicals. In this study, we explored whether there were differences in how autistic and neurotypical pet owners anthropomorphized their pets. We also examined differences in levels of connectedness to nature and experiences of loneliness and how this corresponded to autistic traits in the entire sample. We found anthropomorphism was as common among autistic pet owners as in neurotypicals. However, autistic pet owners reported greater loneliness and were more likely to substitute pets for people. We also found that neurotypical pet owners rated pets more highly on physical, non-anthropomorphic traits (i.e., muscular, active). In contrast, autistic pet owners were likelier to rate pets equally between physical and anthropomorphic traits. Moreover, we found that anthropomorphism and connection to nature were positively correlated with autistic traits. These findings challenge accounts stating that individuals with autism may not anthropomorphize to the same degree as neurotypicals. Implications for animal-based interventions supporting adults on the spectrum are discussed.
... It has been demonstrated that people appear to solve complex problems more easily when these are framed in social terms. It has been noticed that they often ascribe human emotions and intentions to problematic objects especially when they are under pressure or when they do not understand how these objects function (Epley et al. 2013). Fifthly, people seem to be constantly scanning the world for other conspecifics and animate beings, which is why they very often see human (or animal) shapes or faces where there are none, as when they mistake trees for people (Guthrie 1993). ...
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The paper is an attempt to answer the question asked in Cognitive Semantics: Which experiential domain should be considered to be more fundamental or “ultimate”: space, an object or a human being? It is argued that they represent three domains of behaviour identified by archaeologists (the technical domain, the domain of social relations, and the natural history domain), and consequently are equally ultimate. It is also argued that the ability to project knowledge from one domain to the other was the crucial stage in the development of metaphor and abstract thinking, and that this ability (called cognitive fluidity or conceptual integration) was exapted from the physical to abstract domain.
... Z punktu widzenia neurobiologicznego antropomorfizacja wiąże się z aktywnością w części brzuszno-przyśrodkowej kory przedczołowej, którą odnotowuje się, zarówno gdy człowiek wnioskuje o stanach umysłu innych ludzi, jak i antropomorfizowanych obiektów (Epley, Schroeder, Waytz, 2013). Podczas interakcji człowieka z antropomorfizowanym obiektem obserwuje się także aktywność neuronów lustrzanych, podobnie jak w interakcji z człowiekiem (La Torre, Mudyń 2014: 60). ...
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Abstrakt: Serial animowany dzieci My Little Pony został wykorzystany jako przykładowy materiał do rozważań na temat roli personifikacji w tekstach kultury dla dzieci. W analizie zastosowana została metodologia teorii amalgamatów konceptualnych rozszerzona o nie-które zagadnienia z archeologii kognitywnej i psychologii. W ta-kim ujęciu, powszechne zastosowanie personifikacji w serialach dla dzieci zostaje zinterpretowane jako forma wzmocnienia i rozwinięcia zdolności płynności kognitywnej uznawanej przez archeologów za przełomową cechę adaptacyjną. Słowa kluczowe: personifikacja, płynność kognitywna, integracja pojęciowa, seriale dla dzieci Wstęp My Little Pony: Przyjaźń to magia to jeden z dziesiątków animowanych filmów i seriali dla dzieci opartych na personifikacji. Kaczor Donald, Myszka Miki, Wilk i Zając, Król Lew, Pingwiny z Madagaskaru, Masza i Niedźwiedź, Zootopia,... Lista pozycji nie miałaby końca. Do tego należy dodać wielowiekową tradycję różnych form literackich dla dzieci (i nie tylko): bajki Ezopa, Kubuś Pucha-tek, Alicja w Krainie Czarów, Trzy świnki, Słoń Trąbalski, itd. Jak zauważa Nazaruk (2017), książki o zwierzętach stanowią najliczniejszą grupę w księgozbiorze 6-latków i w większości z nich zwierzęta są personifikowane. We wszystkich tych tekstach kultury, fabułę stanowią ludzkie a nie zwierzęce emocje i interakcje. Pojawia się więc pytanie, dlaczego film o przyjaźni jakim jest My Little Pony nie przed-stawia ludzkich protagonistów? Dlaczego personifikacja jest tak 1 Rozdział w monografii Postać w kulturze wizualnej. Tom 5: Posta-cie, światy, fikcje. Anna Krawczyk-Łaskarzewska, Alina Naruszewicz-Duchlińska. (red.) Olsztyn 2019
... This potential to extend human agency to non-humans has been recognized as anthropomorphizing, which appears to be a common human trait in modern as well as traditional cultures (Blurton-Jones & Konner, 1976;Daston & Mitman, 2005;Epley, Schroeder, & Waytz, 2013;Mithen, 1999;Serpell, 2003). Plous (2003) pointed out that pets are often perceived as family members. ...
As hunter-gatherers, it is unlikely that humans evolved psychological tendencies to extend high levels of concern for predator or prey species. Our coalitional psychology, which evolved to regulate human interactions with other humans, might be the basis for the extension of ethical concerns to non-humans. This research identified three variables (kinship, reciprocity, and conscious deliberation) that affect our altruistic tendencies toward humans and tested them to see if they also affected our concern toward non-humans. Using a sample of 119 respondents from participants at animal auctions, the researchers compared levels of concern to: perceived the animals as family; received benefits from the animals; and/or consciously contemplated appropriate levels of concern. The data supported the hypotheses that concerns rise when animals are re-categorized as kin and/or when individuals have previously considered appropriate levels of concern, but it did not support the hypothesized connection between concern and reciprocity.
... The issue of perspective-taking may be especially important where attitudes to animals are concerned. Simulating an animal's experiences might enable readers to take the animal's perspective and to endorse the notion that animals are capable of experience and agency, capacities which people consistently tend to devalue in animals (Epley et al., 2013;Loughnan et al., 2010;Niemysjka et al., 2018;Piazza & Loughnan, 2016). Importantly, research has shown that narratives told from a particular perspective tend to align subsequent attitudes with that perspective (Hoeken et al., 2016). ...
We report three randomised and pre-registered experiments examining the effects of narrative fiction (vs. narrative non-fiction vs. expository non-fiction) on concern for animal welfare. In Experiment 1a (N = 363) there was no significant increase in concern for animal welfare or willingness to donate to an animal charity among participants who read a narrative fiction text about a monkey's plight (vs. narrative non-fiction or expository non-fiction texts about a monkey). In Experiment 1b (N =121) concern for animal welfare and willingness to donate was greater after reading the narrative fiction text compared to a narrative non-fiction text unrelated to animals. Experiment 2 (N =184) employed a simplified design and more severe depiction of animal abuse, but showed no beneficial effect of reading a narrative fiction text about a monkey's plight (vs. a narrative non-fiction text unrelated to animals) on either measure. Experiment 3 (N =290) compared a narrative fiction and a non-fiction text about a monkey or a lizard; participants who read a narrative fiction text, irrespective of the animal depicted, reported greater concern for animal welfare, monkey welfare, lizard welfare and nature (vs. a narrative non-fiction text). However, participants were no more willing to donate in the narrative fiction (vs. non-fiction) condition. These results suggest that reading a narrative fiction text about an animal's plight has a limited effect on concern for animal welfare.
... To this point, Lestel et al. (2014) have specifically commented that perceived animals' ability to feel and sense can spark a sense of wonder and amazement for the "lively admixture of multispecies intersubjectivities" among individuals. Put differently, given the divergent and unique ways that animals experience life differently from humans, an awareness for the animal experience of mind should thus help individuals to open up new perspectives that lead to the transcendent feelings of awe (Epley et al., 2013). In other words, when employees have higher (compared to lower) levels of perceived animals' ability to feel and sense, it helps bring them mentally beyond their current frame of reference to a renewed understanding of the world upon interacting with animals at work (Piff et al., 2015;Shiota et al., 2003). ...
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Human‐animal work represents a collaboration between humans and animals to achieve work goals, and is common in the domains of healthcare, therapy, entertainment, and education. Although the scopes and types of human‐animal work is diversifying and increasing, organizational scholars have yet to explore its impacts on employees. Drawing from the models of compassion and mind perception theories, we first develop a theoretical model pertaining to the development of compassion as a result of human‐animal work. In a study with zookeepers (Study 1), we find that human‐animal work evokes the emotion of compassion, which in turn is positively associated with employee prosocial behavior and task performance. These mediated effects are moderated by how employees perceive animals – employees are more likely to experience compassion, and in turn become more prosocial and work better when they generally perceive animals to be able to experience emotions and bodily sensations. Furthermore, two follow‐up studies (i.e., Studies 2 and 3) with employees who engage in human‐animal work in Hong Kong and the United States reveal that working with animals evokes awe in addition to compassion, and provides insight into their resultant impact on prosocial behavior and task performance. We end by discussing the theoretical and practical implications of this work. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved
... That is to say, it can be cognitively taxing to try to get inside the mind of another person (Epley and Waytz 2010;Waytz, Klein, and Epley 2013). In other words, reasoning about others' minds is not a default state; it is a tool that we humans must be motivated to use because it requires effort (Epley, Schroeder, and Waytz 2013). Or, as stated by Heyes and Frith (2014), learning to read others' minds is a long, hard, and slow process. ...
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Virtual agents (VAs) are used increasingly as representatives of the firm in retail and service settings – particularly in online environments. Existing studies indicate that the customer’s experience is enhanced if VAs resemble humans, which seems to imply that what has been learned over the years in research about the influence of the human employee’s behavior on customer satisfaction may be applicable also to VA behavior. This study explores one factor, effort, which has a positive impact on customer satisfaction when it characterizes the human employee in service encounters. Although a VA (i.e., a computer program) cannot experience effort, it was assumed that human sensitivity to other humans’ effort, and a tendency to anthropomorphize non-human agents, would make human customers susceptible to effort-expending signals when they interact with a VA. To examine this assumption, data were collected from customers who had been interacting with existing VAs. The results indicate that three specific behaviors (engaging in personal conversation, listening, and display of warmth) boost the customer’s perceptions of VA effort, and that perceived VA effort has a positive impact on customer satisfaction.
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To communicate effectively, people must have a reasonably accurate idea about what specific other people know. An obvious starting point for building a model of what another knows is what one oneself knows, or thinks one knows. This article reviews evidence that people impute their own knowledge to others and that, although this serves them well in general, they often do so uncritically, with the result of erroneously assuming that other people have the same knowledge. Overimputation of one's own knowledge can contribute to communication difficulties. Corrective approaches are considered. A conceptualization of where own-knowledge imputation fits in the process of developing models of other people's knowledge is proposed.
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Summary Ten able adults with autism or Asperger syndrome and 10 normal volunteers were PET scanned while watching animated sequences. The animations depicted two triangles moving about on a screen in three different conditions: moving randomly, moving in a goal-directed fashion (chasing, fighting), and moving interactively with implied intentions (coaxing, tricking). The last condition frequently elicited descriptions in terms of mental states that viewers attributed to the triangles (mentalizing). The autism group gave fewer and less accurate descriptions of these latter animations, but equally accurate descriptions of the other animations compared with controls. While viewing animations that elicited mentalizing, in contrast to randomly moving shapes, the normal group showed increased activation in a previously identified mentalizing network (medial prefrontal cortex, superior temporal sulcus at the temporoparietal junction and temporal poles). The autism group showed less activation than the normal group in all these regions. However, one additional region, extrastriate cortex, which was highly active when watching animations that elicited mentalizing, showed the same amount of increased activation in both groups. In the autism group this extrastriate region showed reduced functional connectivity with the superior temporal sulcus at the temporo-parietal junction, an area associated with the processing of biological motion as well as with mentalizing. This finding suggests a physiological cause for the mentalizing dysfunction in autism: a bottleneck in the interaction between higher order and lower order perceptual processes.
The now-classic Metaphors We Live By changed our understanding of metaphor and its role in language and the mind. Metaphor, the authors explain, is a fundamental mechanism of mind, one that allows us to use what we know about our physical and social experience to provide understanding of countless other subjects. Because such metaphors structure our most basic understandings of our experience, they are "metaphors we live by"--metaphors that can shape our perceptions and actions without our ever noticing them. In this updated edition of Lakoff and Johnson's influential book, the authors supply an afterword surveying how their theory of metaphor has developed within the cognitive sciences to become central to the contemporary understanding of how we think and how we express our thoughts in language.
Previous work based on observations of home videotapes indicates that differences can be detected between infants with autism spectrum disorder and infants with typical development at I year of age, The present study addresses the question of whether autism can be distinguished from mental retardation by I year of age. Home videotapes of first birthday parties from 20 infants later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, 14 infants later diagnosed with mental retardation (without autism), and 20 typically developing infants were coded by blind raters with respect to the frequencies of specific social and communicative behaviors and repetitive motor actions. Results indicated that 1-year-olds with autism spectrum disorder can be distinguished from 1-year-olds with typical development and those with mental retardation. The infants with autism spectrum disorder looked at others and oriented to their names less frequently than infants with mental retardation. The infants with autism spectrum disorder and those with mental retardation used gestures and looked to objects held by others less frequently and engaged in repetitive motor actions more frequently than typically developing infants, These results indicate that autism can be distinguished from mental retardation and typical development by I year of age.
Infants between 12 and 21 days of age can imitate both facial and manual gestures; this behavior cannot be explained in terms of either conditioning or innate releasing mechanisms. Such imitation implies that human neonates can equate their own unseen behaviors with gestures they see others perform.