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A Mind like Mine: The Exceptionally Ordinary Underpinnings of Anthropomorphism

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THE SCIENCE OF EXTRAORDINARY BELIEFS
A Mind like Mine: The Exceptionally Ordinary
Underpinnings of Anthropomorphism
NICHOLAS EPLEY
ABSTRACT From computers to cars to cell phones, consumers interact with inanimate objects on a daily basis. De-
spite being mindless machines, consumers nevertheless routinely attribute humanlike mental capacities of intentions,
beliefs, attitudes, and knowledge to them. This process of anthropomorphism has historically been treated as an ex-
ceptional belief, explained away as simply an inevitable outcome of human nature or as an occasional product of human
stupidity. Recent scientic advances, however, have revealed the very ordinary processes of social cognition underlying
anthropomorphism. These processes enable psychologists to predict variability in the magnitude of anthropomorphism
across contexts and also connect it to the inverse phenomena of dehumanization whereby people treat other human beings
as if they lack a humanlike mind. Consumer behavior researchers are uniquely equipped to study these processes, to
identify the precise situational features that give rise to anthropomorphism, to understand implications for consumer
welfare, and to predict important consequences for how people treat everything from machines to animals to other
human beings.
Everyone seems to love the extraordinary.Its syno-
nyms include remarkable, exceptional, amazing, as-
tonishing, and astounding. Extraordinary events defy
explanation. Extraordinary people defy comparison. And ex-
traordinary beliefs presumably defy both explanation and
comparisons with other types of beliefs. Love of the extraor-
dinary therefore puts psychological scientists of all stripes
in the unpleasant company of the worlds greatest spoilers.
As a broad eld, psychologists are in the very business of
taking extraordinary activities of the human mind and pro-
viding perfectly ordinary and understandable explanations for
them. From attraction to culture toas this special issue of
JACR attestsanthropomorphism, effects that defy explana-
tion become linked to very ordinary processes of repeated
exposure (Zajonc 1980), means of production (Talhelm et al.
2014), and social cognition (Epley, Waytz, and Cacioppo 2007).
Psychologistsgreatest strength, at least from my perspec-
tive, is the ability to lift the curtain on some of the human
brains most extraordinary feats and reveal their ordinary
workings, giving all of us a little better understanding of both
ourselves and our fellow human beings.
For me, the seemingly extraordinary nature of anthro-
pomorphism is precisely what makes it such an interesting
topic of psychological study. Dening anthropomorphism
is relatively straightforward: it is simply perceiving human-
like traits in nonhuman agents. Although it is not always
clear what should count as a humanlike trait, the broad pa-
rameters of the phenomenon are not in question. Explain-
ing why it occurs, however, has proven just as tricky as say-
ing the term repeatedly in conversation (go ahead and try it
now).
For centuries, anthropomorphism was explained as a sort
of extraordinary phenomenon that eluded explanation. Phi-
losophers as far back as the sixth century BC (Lesher 1992)
lumped anthropomorphism together with a rather large col-
lection of human foibles, presuming that it represented one
of the many different forms of human stupidity that could
only be overcome by rigorous learning and thinking. Hume
(1757/1957, xix) simply took anthropomorphism to be an
invariable human trait: there is a universal tendency among
mankind to conceive all beings like themselves.Piaget (1929)
offered a less extreme assessment, noting that this tendency
was especially prominent in young children, who tended to
see humanlike agents almost everywhere they looked. Anthro-
pomorphism on Piagets account was only a passing phase
that would be left behind in development alongside bottles
and bed-wetting. Any lasting remnants in adulthood were
only isolated vestiges of infancy. Even more recent treat-
ments keep the precise inner works of anthropomorphic
thinking behind a black curtain by presuming it exists be-
Nicholas Epley (epley@chicagobooth.edu) is the John Templeton Keller Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
JACR, volume 3, number 4. Published online August 22, 2018. http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/699516
©2018 the Association for Consumer Research. All rights reserved. 2378-1815/2018/0304-0071$10.00
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cause of an evolutionary tness advantage (Guthrie 1993).
These accounts continue to relegate anthropomorphism to
the category of extraordinary because they do not provide
clear explanations of how such thinking actually works. You
can see this because none of these accounts explain what we
often want to understand most: variability. Why do people
anthropomorphize some agents more than others? Why are
some contexts especially likely to elicit anthropomorphism?
And why do the same people engage in anthropomorphic
thinking at some times more than at others? To really un-
derstand this variability, researchers have to stop thinking
of anthropomorphism as an extraordinary set of beliefs that
differ from others, and instead connect it with the ordinary
workings of the human mind.
MECHANISMS OF MIND PERCEPTION
One important insight is that effects similar to anthropo-
morphism arise when people think about other human be-
ings, too. For instance, people can be egocentric when eval-
uating other people, presuming that others share somewhat
similar beliefs, attitudes, experiences, and preferences (Ames
2004; Epley et al. 2004). Such egocentric biases are exacer-
bated when the precise contents of another persons mind
are vague or ambiguous (Gilovich 1990). Because the minds
of some nonhuman agents, such as a god, are even more am-
biguous, people are especially prone to egocentrism when at-
tributing beliefs to a god (Epley et al. 2009). Egocentric biases
in judgment are also stronger in kids than in adults, as Pia-
get had observed, but this result comes because adults get
better at deliberately correcting an immediate egocentric in-
terpretation rather than outgrowing their initial egocentric
tendencies altogether (Gilbert and Gill 2000; Epley, More-
wedge, and Keysar 2004). Is anthropomorphism produced
by the same mechanisms that produce egocentric biases in
interpersonal judgment?
In addition, thinking about another persons most hu-
manlike attributestheir inner mental states of intentions,
desires, beliefs, attitudes, and emotionsis not completely
spontaneous but instead can require some deliberate atten-
tion. Without sufcient motivation to attend to anothers
mind, people can remain indifferent to each other. Atten-
tion is guided by a persons motivation, meaning that peo-
ple are more likely to engage with the minds of others when
they have some goal-directed reason to do so (Zaki 2014).
Might engaging with the mind of a nonhuman agent also
be guided by motivations to engage with the mind of that
agent?
These were the insights that got Adam Waytz, John Ca-
cioppo, and I thinking that we might have the beginnings
of a theory that would move anthropomorphism into the
realm of ordinary cognitive processes (Epley et al. 2007). In
particular, we theorized that anthropomorphism is guided
by the same social cognitive mechanisms that enable people
to think about the minds of other people. If anthropomor-
phism is the process of attributing humanlike traits to non-
human agents, then it is essential to be precise about what
counts as a humanlike trait.If you ask the average per-
son what makes human beings unique, they will tend to say
something related to a persons mind (Haslam et al. 2005,
2008; Park, Haslam, and Kashima 2012). In particular, they
will tend to note that human beings are uniquely able to
think (capacities related to cognition) and to feel (capaci-
ties related to emotional experience; Gray, Gray, and Wegner
2007; Waytz et al. 2010). Processes that enable us to think
about the mind of another person should therefore be cen-
tral to the process of anthropomorphism as well.
Based on this insight, along with existing supportive evi-
dence, we suggested that anthropomorphism was triggered
by two fundamental motivations that would increase en-
gagement with the mind of a nonhuman agent. The rst mo-
tivation is the desire for social connection (Baumeister and
Leary 1995). Human beings are the most social primates on
the planet, who are made happier and healthier by connect-
ing with other people (Cacioppo and Patrick 2008). A moti-
vation to form a social bond with a nonhuman agent, such
as a god or a pet, might then increase attention to the mind
of these nonhuman agents, thereby increasing the likelihood
of perceiving humanlike traits in them. Several experiments
have supported this hypothesis involving nonhuman ani-
mals and religious agents (Epley et al. 2008; Aydin, Fischer,
and Frey 2010; Powers et al. 2014; Bartz, Tchalova, and
Fenerci 2016) and also consumer products (Mourey, Olson,
and Yoon 2017; Chen, Sengupta, and Adaval 2018). The sec-
ond motivation is a desire to explain, predict, and there-
fore potentially control another agent. This motive is typ-
ically referred to as effectance motivation in the psychological
literature (White 1959). Perhaps due to the evolutionary
pressures produced by living in large social groups (Dunbar
1993), human beings have evolved a uniquely sophisticated
system of social cognition that is used to explain and pre-
dict other peoples behavior (Herrmann et al. 2007), usually
referred to as a theory of mind.Instead of treating other
people like objects, we instead attribute a mind to another
person, complete with concepts like intentions, desires, at-
000 A Mind like Mine Epley
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titudes, and beliefs that can be used to explain his or her be-
havior. A mind is the concept that people use to explain the
behavior of almost any independently acting agent, whether
it is a person or a even a geometric shape that moves in ei-
ther an independent or interdependent way (Heider and
Simmel 1944; Scholl and Tremoulet 2000). When an agents
behavior needs to be explained, whether human or not, an
onlookers theory of mind is likely to be triggered. Consis-
tent with this hypotheses, people in one series of experi-
ments were more likely to attribute a humanlike mind to a
gadget when it behaved unpredictably and hence needed
to be explained (Waytz et al. 2010). Anthropomorphism may
therefore be triggered by the same motivational mecha-
nisms that cause us to think about the minds of other peo-
ple.
Of course, sometimes a persons mind just pops up in
front of us whether we are motivated to attend to it or
not. A person may speak to us and reveal her intentions or
desires. A clear facial expression might spontaneously trig-
ger us to recognize a mans mood. A familiar movement
might reveal an intention that allows us to understand an-
other persons motivations, desires, or intentions. The third
theoretical factor we believe guides anthropomorphism is
the perceived similarity of an agent to a human based on
its observable features, what we called elicited agent knowl-
edge.In contrast to the top-down motivational processes
of connection and effectance, these are bottom-up triggers
that come from the agent itself and suggest human similar-
ity. This includes humanlike facial features, humanlike move-
ment, and a human voice (Guthrie 1993; Morewedge, Pres-
ton, and Wegner 2007; Schroeder, Kardas, and Epley 2017).
Due to the associative nature of the human brain, these fea-
tures are likely to activate associated concepts related to the
presence of a humanlike mind. In one experiment, for in-
stance, an autonomous vehicle was anthropomorphized more
when it was given a gender, spoke to the user, and anticipated
what was happening around itall cues to the presence of
a humanlike mind (Waytz, Haefner, and Epley 2014).
One of the major scienticbenets of moving a concept
out of the extraordinary categoryis that its connection to
other ordinary processes is now easier to see. If anthropo-
morphism is at least partly a process of attributing a human-
like mind to a nonhuman agent, then it starts to look sus-
piciously similar to the inverse process of failing to attribute
ahumanlikemindtoanotherperson.Justastherearetimes
when phones are treated somewhat like people, so too are
there times when other people are treated like mindless ob-
jects or nonhuman animals. This is the essence of dehu-
manization (Haslam 2006; Fiske 2009; Waytz, Schroeder, and
Epley 2013). Anthropomorphism and dehumanization may
then be the same underlying psychological process of mind
perception, applied to different targets. If a motivation to
connect to a nonhuman agent increases the tendency to per-
ceive it as humanlike, then lacking the motivation to con-
nect with another person might lead someone to perceive
the person as less humanlike (i.e., as less mindful). Consis-
tent with this possibility, participants in a series of experi-
ments tended to dehumanize an outgroup member more
when they were made to feel more connected to an ingroup
member (Waytz and Epley 2012).And if bottom-up cues that
suggest the presence of a humanlike mind can lead to an-
thropomorphism, then the absence of them when evaluating
other people might lead people to see someone as relatively
less humanlike. Consistent with this possibility, removing a
persons voice from their speech makes the person seem less
humanlike than when their voice is present (Schroeder and
Epley 2015; Schroeder et al. 2017). Text-based media, in this
way, may be relatively dehumanizing. Adding a humanlike
voice to computer-generated text, in contrast, increases the
likelihood of believing that the text was created by a real per-
son, consistent with anthropomorphism (Schroeder and Epley
2016).
Given that consumers are typically in the business of
consuming objects, either by purchasing or using them, it is
not surprising that consumer behavior researchers are in-
creasingly interested in understanding anthropomorphism.
Triggered by the seminal work in consumer behavior by Ag-
garwal and McGill (2007), along with some of the work de-
scribed above as well, consumer behavior researchers have
been making important advancesinthisliterature.Anyten-
dency to humanize an object represents an obvious mis-
take. A car, no matter how much it looks to be smiling at
you, does not actually like you in the same way as a person
who smiles at you. Any consequence of anthropomorphism
also represents a potential opportunity for marketers to
affect consumption, or to affect a consumers positive ex-
perience with an object and hence affect the consumers
well-being. A car is made of completely lifeless steel, but an-
thropomorphizing it as if it were alive may make consum-
ers reluctant to replace it for a newer model (Chandler and
Schwarz 2010). Crushing lifeless steel is one thing. Crush-
ing an old reliable friend is quite another.
This special issue includes four unique contributions re-
lated to anthropomorphism, each of which represents an in-
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teresting contribution to the eld. Given the ease of orthog-
onally manipulating product features, consumer behavior
researchers are in a unique position to investigate both the
underlying causes of anthropomorphism, as well as a broad
range of its consequences. I believe the eld is also poised
to expand into new territory by examining the inverse pro-
cess of dehumanization, an increasingly important topic
in the consumer landscape as ever-present access to data
turns individual people into clicksand eyeballs.The ar-
ticles in this special issue, coupled with existing research,
therefore raises several important questions about the fu-
ture direction of research in this area. I will focus on just
four that I think are especially relevant for consumer re-
searchers.
QUESTION 1: WHAT IS IT?
Although dening anthropomorphism is easier than ex-
plaining it, there is still an undesirable amount of confusion
about how, exactly, one should dene the concept. This is a
common problem in the social sciences that use language
rather than mathematics to express ideas, because language
creates concepts with fuzzy edges. If anthropomorphism is
the attribution of humanlike traits, then should we restrict
it to only the traits that are presumed by the average person
to be unique to humans? Focusing on this denition is what
led my coauthors and I to focus most exclusively on percep-
tions of mind, because specic mental states are those pre-
sumed to be most uniquely human.
However, perusing the literature reveals a much more
promiscuous use of the term that includes having a face, bi-
pedal bodies, individual identity, being part of a family, and
even the shape of a Pom drink bottle (Wan 2018). In New-
mans article on animism and narratives (2018), anthropo-
morphism was sometimes equated with being perceived as
alive (see also Chandler and Schwarz 2010). Items from the
Signicant Objects project, for instance, were coded as ani-
misticif they took the form of a person, animal, plant, or
imaginary creature. The heading for this section, however,
is titled anthropomorphism,even though only one of these
four agents is a human. This fuzziness in concept use can be
seen throughout the literature.
For consumer behavior in particular, and psychological
science more broadly, the semantics of anthropomorphism
matter nothing compared to its empirical consequences. But
precision in term use is critical for understanding the effects
were documenting. Does perceiving something to be alive
have the same consequences as perceiving it to be human-
like, or does perceiving life trigger the theory of mind pro-
cesses that lead to anthropomorphism? Any nonhuman an-
imal could be described in terms of an individual identity,
and so does individuation produce the same kinds of conse-
quences as perceiving uniquely human traits in nonhuman
agents? And many nonhuman animals have eyes. Does put-
ting eyes on a juice bottle count as anthropomorphism, or
does it trigger consumers to perceive it as having a mind
behind those eyes that can think and feel? My hope is that
consumer behavior researchers will help in the coming years
to provide more precise boundaries on these currently fuzzy
concepts.
QUESTION 2: WHATS CAUSING IT?
An automechanic can x your car by knowing exactly how
a car engine works. A good automechanic understands auto-
mechanisms. Likewise, psychological scientists truly under-
stand behavior and how to change or xit, when they
understand the precise psychological mechanisms guiding
it. Psychologists have to have a precise understanding of
psychomechanics. We (Epley et al. 2007) have suggested the
combination of motivational and cognitive mechanisms that
guide anthropomorphism described earlier, treating each as
essentially independent of each other, and not meaning-
fully differentiating between different types of cues that
might signal the presence of a humanlike mind in a nonhu-
man agent. All of the articles related to anthropomorphism
in this special issue, however, demonstrate an important
interaction between the motivation of the consumer and
the specic features of the object being evaluated. In Chen
et al. (2018), the match between a persons motivation to
connect and the nature of the product being evaluated
(whether it was social or functional) was essential for pre-
dicting consumer preferences. In Newman (2018), a nar-
rative that presumably enabled some anthropomorphism of
an object by implying mental states of intentions, emotions,
attitudes, and so on, affected the perceived value and will-
ingness to pay for an object only when the object itself
was animistic (and presumably more capable of being an-
thropomorphized). Likewise, in Awad and Youn (2018), nar-
cissists liked the narcissistic brand more only when it was
presented with easily anthropomorphized features of eyes
and an arrogant personied attitude. And in Wan (2018),
money versus time priming only affected participantseval-
uations when they were evaluating a product they had
anthropomorphized. These results suggest that more so-
phisticated theorizing is necessary to understand how mo-
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tivations of a perceiver interact with features of the agent
being perceived in order to enable important consequences
of anthropomorphism.
In addition, studying consumer products enables a care-
ful study of a products attributes in order to understand
which are truly important and which are not. For instance,
in Awad and Youn (2018), consumer products were given
identities, facial features, and a narrative that included a
statement of beliefs and evaluations. Which of these were
responsible for the increased liking among narcissists? Sim-
ilarly, in Wan (2018), experiment 1 participants evaluated
a backpack (described using rst-person language) that in-
cluded a smiley face; they also labeled the backpack with three
personality traits that they thought it might have. Some
of these are bottom-up features elicited by the object itself
(rst-person language), whereas others are top-down rea-
soning processes provided by participants themselves (think-
ing of personality traits). Which of these led time-primed
participants to like the backpack more? In another experi-
ment by my colleagues and me (Waytz et al. 2014), we en-
couraged participants to anthropomorphize a simulated au-
tonomous vehicle by giving it a name (Iris), a human voice,
a gender (female), and spoken content implying the ability
to sense its surroundings and plan for the future. Which of
these really mattered?
My hypothesis is that the effects observed in these ex-
periments are mediated by inferences about the humanlike
mental states implied in the experimental manipulations;
hence, factors that contribute most to the perception of
a humanlike mind (such as voice and statements related to
mental states) are most essential. Factors that are less
uniquely tied to the presence of a humanlike mind, such as
a face, personal identity, or gender, are less effective. How-
ever, additional research is obviously necessary to document
these mechanisms more precisely. The benet of studying
consumer products is that each anthropomorphic attribute
can be manipulated orthogonally in order to identify which
are important and which are not, which is what makes con-
sumer behavior researchers uniquely equipped to advance
theory in this area.
QUESTION 3: WHAT ARE ITS CONSEQUENCES?
Understanding these mechanisms underlying anthropo-
morphism is essential for predicting its consequences ac-
curately. Although anthropomorphism is interesting to un-
derstand for its own sake, understanding its consequences
for judgment and behavior is what matters most. A psy-
chological process that has no demonstrable consequences
is not worth studying.
Three of the articles included in this special issue track
the consequences of anthropomorphism (or animism) on
product valuation. This is of obvious importance to con-
sumer behavior, but there are many other consequences
that consumer behavior researchers are uniquely able to
assess if they broaden their research scope beyond con-
suming objects. How does anthropomorphism, for instance,
affect consumer well-being, animal rights, or pro- and anti-
environmental behavior? This wide range of additional con-
sequences provides many interesting opportunities for fu-
ture research.
Chen et al. (2018) begins doing some of this work by
examining the consequences of anthropomorphism on con-
sumer well-being. Or, at least on a consumers sense of vi-
tality. This is an especially encouraging development from
my perspective because it tests an important theoretical
prediction about the consequences of motivated reasoning.
In particular, any motivated psychological process should
show at least two hallmarks consistent with goal-directed
behavior: (1) that increasing pursuit of the goal should ac-
tivate the proposed motivational process and (2) that en-
gaging in the motivated process should produce some mea-
surable effect on goal satisfaction. Prior work has tested how
triggering the goal affects anthropomorphism, but very lit-
tle has examined how engaging in anthropomorphism af-
fects the perceivers own experience by satisfying the goal
they are pursuing. This is an exciting development that re-
quires dramatically more research attention than it has got-
ten in the past.
Studying consumer well-being in these contexts also raises
important research questions about consumer welfare. Al-
though marketing an object as if it has a humanlike mind
is deceptive, can encouraging anthropomorphism of some
objects provide meaningful boosts in ones sense of social
connection or competence that could systematically improve
well-being for at least some consumers? In these cases, would
consumers even recognize that anthropomorphic depictions
are inaccurate and potentially deceptive from marketers?
Would consumers be upset with misrepresentation of a prod-
uct if it were seen as serving prosocial ends (Levine and
Schweitzer 2014, 2015)?
Thinking more broadly about anthropomorphism also
highlights the broad range of nonhuman agents that con-
sumers interact with. All four articles related to anthropo-
morphism in this special issue focus on inanimate objects
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that clearly lack either life or a humanlike mind, but con-
sumers also interact with nonhuman animals whose mental
lives are open to serious debate, or with a planet whose ac-
tions can be easily imbued with conscious intent. One impor-
tant consequence of anthropomorphizingor humanizing
an agentis that it also becomes more of a moral agent worthy
of care and concern. There is a small but growing literature
on how anthropomorphism affects the perception of ani-
mal rights (Loughnan, Bastian, and Haslam 2014), but con-
sumer behavior researchers should be contributing directly
to this by understanding how these processes affect actual
consumption. Likewise, our planet is routinely referred to as
Mother Earth,with natural events often interpreted as be-
ing produced by a supernatural mind. How does anthropo-
morphizing our natural world affect environmental behav-
ior? Does stripping away the tendency to imbue natural
forces with mindful intent encourage overconsumption of
the planets resources and encourage environmental degra-
dation? The answers to these questions are of deepest im-
portance, and they are all questions rmly focused on con-
sumption.
QUESTION 4: WHAT ABOUT ITS INVERSE?
As easy at it might be for people to attribute aspects of a
humanlike mind to something that is obviously mindless,
so too is it easy for people to fail to attribute a fully human-
like mind to another completely mindful person. As the out-
comes of ordinary social cognition simply applied to differ-
ent targets, anthropomorphism and dehumanization are two
sides of the same coin. Recognizing the same underlying psy-
chological processes opens up a wide array of fundamental
research questions for consumer behavior researchers. Just
as consumers interact with brands, consumer products, and
other inanimate objects, they also interact with wait staff
at restaurants, customer service agents over phone calls, and
migrant workers who are responsible for bringing the food
we eat to our dinner tables. The fully human minds of these
service workers should never be in question, but their sta-
tus as a means to a consumers end puts them in a precar-
ious position of being treated as relatively mindlessmore
like an object or nonhuman animal than as a mindful hu-
man being (Schroeder and Fishbach 2015). Ray Lewis, a re-
tired National Football League (NFL) player known for his
ferocious hits, noted the ease with which players can be de-
humanized by team owners. In his response to the pos-
sibility of extending an already-grueling 16-game season to
18 games, he said, [I know] the things you have to go
through to keep your body [functioning]. Were not auto-
mobiles. Were not machines. Were humans.Aaron Rod-
gers, currently an NFL quarterback, likewise suggested that
NFL fans can sometimes treat them as unfeeling objects:
fans sometimes forget were human ...we are people,
and we have feelings.As a former college football player
myself, I can no longer watch the game as an avid con-
sumer given what science suggests the game can do to a pro-
fessional players brain.
Consumers do not simply use objects; they also use peo-
ple to achieve their consumption goals. From pornography
that can objectify women (Gray et al. 2011), to sports that
may make athletes seem like animals (Hoberman 1992), to
work that turns human beings into a machine-like means
of production (Waytz and Norton 2014), other people are
often central to a consumers everyday behavior. How does
the mind attributed to these real people affect how consum-
ers treat others in a market-based context (Falk and Szech
2013)? How would humanizing these real people in con-
sumer settings affect consumersbehaviors toward them?
Consumer behavior researchers should be driving our un-
derstanding of not just how people treat brands and con-
sumer goods but also how people treat each other. Un-
derstanding the processes underlying dehumanization, and
its consequences, should become central to the study of
consumer behavior. It is currently overlooked almost com-
pletely.
CONCLUSION
Human beings are the most social of all primates, with
brains uniquely equipped to understand the sophisticated
minds of other people. This social sense makes human be-
ing uniquely intelligent in the social world compared to our
nearest primate relatives (Herrmann et al. 2007), easily able
to reason quickly and easily about another personsthoughts,
beliefs, attitudes, and opinions. Being able to recognize the
mind of another person gives rise to what might otherwise
seem like an extraordinary belief: the belief that a pet, a god,
or a gadget has a mind just like yours and mine. Understand-
ing these ordinary processes that give rise to what looks
like an extraordinary belief is essential for understanding
when anthropomorphism occurs, for understanding why it
occurs, understanding its consequences, and also for under-
standing the inverse process of dehumanization and objecti-
cation. Consumer behavior researchers are uniquely equipped
to understand these processes because of the wide array of
products and agents that consumers interact with on an ev-
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eryday basis, and also increasing opportunities for consum-
ers to either dehumanize or objectify others, or to be dehu-
manized themselves. Topics in consumer behavior come and
go. As the articles in this special issue make clear, this topic
is denitely coming.
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000 A Mind like Mine Epley
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... What is clear from empirical studies, however, is that human participantsand when they are asked to exercise their theory of mind capabilitytypically ascribe non-human agents at least some level of mind if the agents provide cues that they are humanlike (Gray et al., 2007;Gray and Wegner, 2012;Martini et al., 2016;. Thus we humans tend to react to humanlike agents in ways that resemble how we react to real humans (Epley, 2018;Foehr and Germelmann, 2020;Pelau et al., 2021;Reeves and Nass, 1996;Złotowski et al., 2015). This is often referred to as anthropomorphism (Epley et al., 2007), and it is particularly likely to materialize if the non-human agent is similar to a real human (Epley, 2018). ...
... Thus we humans tend to react to humanlike agents in ways that resemble how we react to real humans (Epley, 2018;Foehr and Germelmann, 2020;Pelau et al., 2021;Reeves and Nass, 1996;Złotowski et al., 2015). This is often referred to as anthropomorphism (Epley et al., 2007), and it is particularly likely to materialize if the non-human agent is similar to a real human (Epley, 2018). Similarities that typically trigger anthropomorphism is when the agent is able to engage in a natural language-based conversation with turn-taking; has a movable body with a head, two arms and two legs; has a human name and gender; and appears to have mind-related capabilities such as agency and emotionality. ...
... Similarities that typically trigger anthropomorphism is when the agent is able to engage in a natural language-based conversation with turn-taking; has a movable body with a head, two arms and two legs; has a human name and gender; and appears to have mind-related capabilities such as agency and emotionality. According to Epley (2018), and due to the associative nature of human brains, exposure to a non-human object that is similar to a real human can activate mental content related to real humansand in the next step this content is applied, more or less automatically, to the non-human object. This means that anthropomorphization enhances the efficiency with which we process information; we can capitalize on our knowledge about what it means to be humanknowledge that is much more extensive than our knowledge about what it is like to be non-human (Wiese et al., 2017). ...
In the near future, it is expected that we humans will receive an increasing part of various services from robots. Many observers, and several existing studies, indicate that we react more positively if our robots have humanlike attributes and capabilities, and the present study examines one such capability: theory of mind. It has to do with the ability to impute mental states to others, which is essential for human-to-human interaction (including interactions in service settings). More specifically, the present study examines the effects of perceptions of service robots' theory of mind capabilities in human-to-robot interactions when the main downstream variable is perceived service quality. Several mediators are also examined. To this end, two empirical studies comprising human-to-robot interactions in a domestic setting were conducted. Both studies indicate that a service robot with more as opposed to less perceived theory of mind enhances perceived service quality, and that this effect is mediated by perceived humanness and perceived usefulness in relation to the robot. It may be argued that a robot's theory of mind capability can also be seen as creepy, which may reduce perceived service quality, because a competent mind reader can create serious harm to others. In the present study, however, robotic theory of mind capabilities did not influence creepiness perceptions.
... That is to say, existing studies show that the perceived effort of the employee in the service encounter is positively associated with customer satisfaction (e.g., Mohr and Bitner 1995;Söderlund and Sagfossen 2017;Söderlund 2018). A VA (i.e., a computer program) cannot experience effort (and cannot get tired after having expended effort), but given a strong tendency for humans to anthropomorphize non-humans (Epley, Waytz, and Cacioppo 2007;Epley 2018), particularly when they are humanlike, it is assumed in the present study that a VA can be perceived as if it is engaging in effortful behavior. The extent to which such effort perceptions would influence customer satisfaction also in a setting in which human customers interact with non-human agents has hitherto not been addressed in the existing literature, and it is this research gap that the present study addresses. ...
... The sensitivity to others' effort appears to have its roots in a strong distaste to engage oneself in what is effortful. That is to say, people in general are highly effort-aversive (Söderlund and Sagfossen 2017), and given that the self is a dominant source of inferences about other persons (Epley 2018), people are likely to be attentive when others are engaging in effortful behavior. Moreover, this attentiveness is expected to be heightened in situations in which resources are exchanged, because most people want resources to be allocated in a fair way -and others' efforts in exchange situations is one major determinant of fairness (Adams 1963). ...
... After all, most of us know that a machine, a computer program, an algorithm, and a VA would not be able to experience effort (at least not in the same way as a human). However, we humans have a strong tendency to anthropomorphize non-humans (Epley, Waytz, and Cacioppo 2007), particularly when such nonhumans have features and display behavior that resemble humans (Gong 2008;Martini et al. 2016;Epley 2018). Presumably, similarity in such terms suggests the presence of a mind (Bastian et al. 2012;Urquiza-Haas and Kotrschal 2015), which in turn may imply that a non-human entity is humanlike. ...
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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.
... In the present research, we aimed to address this by building on the theory of embodied cognition (Barsalou, 2010;Lakoff & Johnson, 1980) to investigate the effects of the emotional content of stimuli on expected product temperature. In particular, we leverage people's associations between temperature and emotions concepts and their underlying affective dimensions (Barbosa Escobar et al., 2021), and we imbue a product with emotional content through emoji facial expressions and anthropomorphism, a phenomenon that has gained increasing attention in research and practice (Epley, 2018). This research contributes to the literature on embodied cognition and consumer behavior by demonstrating that the associations between non-concrete (e.g., emotions) and concrete (e.g., temperature) concepts go beyond mere associations and can influence product expectations about concrete properties. ...
... Some of the main means by which anthropomorphism can be triggered are facial features and descriptions involving human-like features (Chandler & Schwarz, 2010;Puzakova & Aggarwal, 2018). As Epley (2018) suggested, an important mechanism behind anthropomorphism relates to the similarity of a target to a human agent based on observable features. This mechanism is based on the activation of a EMOTIONAL CUES AND PRODUCT TEMPERATURE 7 human schema (knowledge about human agents) when the target invokes a person. ...
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Throughout six experiments (five pre-registered), we found that embodying a product with emotional content, by using emoji facial expressions, influences its expected temperature in online settings. A negative valence, low arousal expression on the receptacle of a hot chocolate beverage leads to lower expected temperature than a positive valence, high arousal expression and a control condition without any expression. The influence of the emoji expression is enhanced by higher anthropomorphism (i.e., making individuals focus on the emotions of the product). Our results suggest that these effects are driven by the product embodying the emotional connotation of the expressions and subsequently their respective associated temperatures. Importantly, our findings point to the presence of negativity biases, as the negative stimuli exerted a larger impact than the positive one. Our research adds to the literature on embodied cognition and consumer behavior and offers insights for marketers on a novel way to leverage emotional cues to influence product expectations and highlight specific sensory features.
... Additionally, social media represents a perfect arena for identifying how consumerbrand relationships are touched by anthropomorphism, which occurs when an inanimate object is perceived as having humanlike characteristics (Epley et al., 2008;Epley, 2018;Portal et al., 2018;Puzakova and Aggarwal, 2018;Waytz et al., 2010) that are both physical and non-physical, such as emotions, intentions or motivations (Epley et al., 2007;MacInnis and Folkes, 2017). Because consumers relate to brands in the same way they relate to other people (Brown, 2010;Fournier and Alvarez, 2013;Portal et al., 2018), brand anthropomorphism is recognized as an important dimension in the marketing domain (Golossenko et al., 2020). ...
... In fact, anthropomorphism seems to be the best way to express disappointment, dissatisfaction, responsibility and intentionality. In some cases, the brand itself has been the object of anthropomorphization by the company (Epley et al., 2008;Epley, 2018;Portal et al., 2018;Puzakova and Aggarwal, 2018;Waytz et al., 2010). Therefore, EJM 56,2 consumers use the same anthropomorphic elements that have been attributed to the product or service, while in other cases, anthropomorphization is a consumer's choice to express negativity and relate to the brand in the same way as to human beings and especially when he/she expresses strong feelings. ...
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Purpose This paper aims to provide a better understanding of negative consumer–brand relationships in social-media-based anti-brand communities from a consumer culture theory (CCT) perspective. In particular, it investigates the purpose and the meaning of the consumer participation in online anti-brand communities, also through the analysis of the ways in which they express negative feelings toward the hated brands. Design/methodology/approach This study applies a “symbolic netnographic” method to six anti-brand communities related to four global brands, namely, Apple, Nestlé, Uber and McDonald’s. Moreover, several interviews were conducted with anti-brand community administrators. Findings The findings show that the main reason for consumers to join anti-brand communities is a desire to participate in the construction of new meanings and values of modern consumption, translating their ideological incompatibility with certain brands into negative engagement and activism aimed at destroying the hated brand’s image and reputation. Furthermore, the findings reveal that brand anthropomorphism is a frequent means of communication also used in the context of negative consumer–brand relationships, to strengthen the battle against the hated brand in a more frontal and direct manner. Research limitations/implications Although this research provides some initial insights into negative consumer–brand relationships in the social media anti brand communities, the paper also has some limitations. The netnographic approach should be analyzed within more and different anti-brand communities. In this investigation, the authors perceived how difficult it is to obtain feedback from communities and to secure the collaboration of their administrators. There is also a need for research on other potential factors that can play a key role in negative consumer–brand relationships in social-media anti-brand communities, such as cultural capital or the impact of cultural perceptions. Moreover, future research should focus on different types of products and brand services, such as hedonic vs. utilitarian brands, as these might generate different types of consumer behavioral responses. Finally, a further direction for future research would be to consider the set of “brand recovery strategies” that can be implemented by companies to deal with negative consumer–brand relationships, including the identification of situations in which “not acting” could be preferable. Practical implications Understanding the antecedents and types of negative consumer–brand relationships enables companies to identify “brand recovery strategies” for managing negativity in the appropriate manner. Moreover, negative feelings toward brand could even be an opportunity for improving branding management. Originality/value This research improves on previous few studies dealing with online anti-brand communities from a CCT perspective. Firstly, it provides a holistic perspective of negative consumer–brand relationships in general and specifically of brand hate, thus advancing our understanding of the sociocultural dynamics of negative consumer–brand relationships; secondly, it provides new insights into the brand anthropomorphism phenomenon emerging in the negative feelings context. Overall, this research contributes to knowledge for both academics and managers as to why, how and for what purpose consumers experience negative engagement toward certain brands in the specific context of social-media-based anti-brand communities.
... The traditional accounts of social interaction imply or explicitly demand that all interactants have some number of certain kinds of (human) social capacities, including consciousness, intentionality, self-awareness, empathy, emotions, beliefs, reasoning, capacity for joint-action, etc. (Duffy, 2003;Cerulo, 2009;Hakli, 2014;Parviainen et al., 2019;Damholdt et al., 2020;Seibt et al., 2020a). With regard to human-robot interaction (often social robotics), the literature on anthropomorphism has always been contentious (Duffy, 2003;Waytz et al., 2010;Darling, 2017;Epley, 2018;Zebrowski, 2020). Many researchers point out that our projection of human capacities onto non-human systems results in a metaphorical use of anthropomorphism already. ...
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AI (broadly speaking) as a discipline and practice has tended to misconstrue social cognition by failing to properly appreciate the role and structure of the interaction itself. Participatory Sense-Making (PSM) offers a new level of description in understanding the potential role of (particularly robotics-based) AGI in a social interaction process. Where it falls short in distinguishing genuine living sense-makers from potentially cognitive artificial systems, sociomorphing allows for gradations in how these potential systems are defined and incorporated into asymmetrical sociality. By side-stepping problems of anthropomorphism and muddy language around it, sociomorphing offers a framework and ontology that can help researchers make finer distinctions while studying social cognition through enactive sociality, PSM. We show here how PSM and sociomorphing, taken together and reconceived for more than just social robotics, can offer a robust framework for AGI robotics-based approaches.
... Since then, more distinct efforts to address novelty effects have surfaced, such as (Leite et al., 2009;Leite et al., 2013;van den Berghe et al., 2019;Maj and Zarzycki, 2019;Baxter et al., 2016) where (mechanisms underlying) novelty effects are acknowledged and/or treated as an important phenomenon worthy of closer investigations. Still, in comparison to other related "hot" topics in SHRI research such as anthropomorphism (Epley, 2018), long-term engagement (Leite et al., 2013) and the Uncanny Valley (Cheetham, 2017), novelty effects have so far failed to gather momentum as a dimension of social human-robot interaction on the shared research agenda in its own right. For instance, to my knowledge, so far there are no survey or review-articles with the explicit main aim of identifying and classifying common characteristics of psychological novelty phenomena across the SHRI publication-history. ...
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Existing methodologies to describe anthropomorphism in human-robot interaction often rely either on specific one-time responses to robot behavior, such as keeping the robot's secret, or on post hoc measures, such as questionnaires. Currently, there is no method to describe the dynamics of people's behavior over the course of an interaction and in response to robot behavior. In this paper, I propose a method that allows the researcher to trace anthropomorphizing and non-anthropomorphizing responses to robots dynamically moment-by-moment over the course of human-robot interactions. I illustrate this methodology in a case study and find considerable variation between participants, but also considerable intrapersonal variation in the ways the robot is anthropomorphized. That is, people may respond to the robot as if it was another human in one moment and to its machine-like properties in the next. These findings may influence explanatory models of anthropomorphism.
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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A person’s speech communicates his or her thoughts and feelings. We predicted that beyond conveying the contents of a person’s mind, a person’s speech also conveys mental capacity, such that hearing a person explain his or her beliefs makes the person seem more mentally capable—and therefore seem to possess more uniquely human mental traits—than reading the same content. We expected this effect to emerge when people are perceived as relatively mindless, such as when they disagree with the evaluator’s own beliefs. Three experiments involving polarizing attitudinal issues and political opinions supported these hypotheses. A fourth experiment identified paralinguistic cues in the human voice that convey basic mental capacities. These results suggest that the medium through which people communicate may systematically influence the impressions they form of each other. The tendency to denigrate the minds of the opposition may be tempered by giving them, quite literally, a voice.
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Although much research examines how physicians perceive their patients, here we study how patients perceive physicians. We propose patients consider their physicians like personally emotionless “empty vessels”: The higher is individuals’ need for care, the less they value physicians’ traits related to their personal lives (e.g., self-focused emotions), but the more they value physicians’ traits related to patients (e.g., patient-focused emotions). In an initial study, participants recalled fewer personal facts (e.g., marital status) about physicians who seemed more important to their health. In subsequent experiments, participants in higher need for care believed physicians have less personal emotions. Although higher need individuals, such as patients in a clinic, perceived their physicians to be personally emotionless, they wanted the clinic to hire physicians who displayed patient-focused emotion. We discuss implications of perceiving physicians as empty vessels for health care.
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Most people both eat animals and care about animals. Research has begun to examine the psychological processes that allow people to negotiate this "meat paradox." To understand the psychology of eating animals, we examine characteristics of the eaters (people), the eaten (animals), and the eating (the behavior). People who value masculinity, enjoy meat and do not see it as a moral issue, and find dominance and inequality acceptable are most likely to consume animals. Perceiving animals as highly dissimilar to humans and as lacking mental attributes, such as the capacity for pain, also supports meat-eating. In addition to these beliefs, values, and perceptions, the act of eating meat triggers psychological processes that regulate negative emotions associated with eating animals. We conclude by discussing the implications of this research for understanding the psychology of morality.
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Feeling left out has been shown to trigger primal, automatic responses in an attempt to compensate for threats to social belongingness. Such responses typically involve reconnection with other human beings. However, four experiments provide evidence that exposure to or interaction with anthropomorphic consumer products (i.e., products featuring characteristics of being alive through design, interaction, intelligence, responsiveness, and/or personality) can also satisfy (at least partially) social needs, ultimately mitigating previously documented effects of social exclusion. Specifically, interacting with anthropomorphic (vs. non-anthropomorphic) products following social exclusion reduces 1) the need to exaggerate the number of one’s current social connections, 2) the anticipated need to engage with close others in the future, and 3) the willingness to engage in prosocial behavior. These effects are driven by a need for social assurance, rather than positive affect. Moreover, an important boundary condition exists: drawing attention to the fact that an anthropomorphic product is not actually alive (i.e., the product does not provide genuine human interaction) limits its ability to fulfill social needs. Thus, in a time when consumer products are becoming increasingly anthropomorphic in design and function, the results reveal potentially important consequences for human-to-human relationships.
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Empathy features a tension between automaticity and context dependency. On the one hand, people often take on each other's internal states reflexively and outside of awareness. On the other hand, empathy shifts with characteristics of empathizers and situations. These 2 characteristics of empathy can be reconciled by acknowledging the key role of motivation in driving people to avoid or approach engagement with others' emotions. In particular, at least 3 phenomena-suffering, material costs, and interference with competition-motivate people to avoid empathy, and at least 3 phenomena-positive affect, affiliation, and social desirability-motivate them to approach empathy. Would-be empathizers carry out these motives through regulatory strategies including situation selection, attentional modulation, and appraisal, which alter the course of empathic episodes. Interdisciplinary evidence highlights the motivated nature of empathy, and a motivated model holds wide-ranging implications for basic theory, models of psychiatric illness, and intervention efforts to maximize empathy. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2014 APA, all rights reserved).
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Cross-cultural psychologists have mostly contrasted East Asia with the West. However, this study shows that there are major psychological differences within China. We propose that a history of farming rice makes cultures more interdependent, whereas farming wheat makes cultures more independent, and these agricultural legacies continue to affect people in the modern world. We tested 1162 Han Chinese participants in six sites and found that rice-growing southern China is more interdependent and holistic-thinking than the wheat-growing north. To control for confounds like climate, we tested people from neighboring counties along the rice-wheat border and found differences that were just as large. We also find that modernization and pathogen prevalence theories do not fit the data.