How to not be anthropomorphized Anthropomorphism by Mike Linksvayer

How to not be anthropomorphized

If I anthropomorphize an avatar after a simple chat, how far does this anthropomorphism stretch? And, how can you avoid being victimized by my anthropomophisation-beam, if at all?

I recently had a chat with Evie, a virtual “person”. I thought I was aware that Evie was an avatar, and did not possess the mental life that (I assume) you and I do, until I tried to correct Evie on something she said. She didn’t understand that I was trying to correct her. I somewhat disappointedly realized that the illusion that I was chatting with an intelligent being (or program) was broken. Seconds later I realized that the fact that an illusion was broken meant that there was an illusion to begin with. I had anthropomorphized Evie.

So again: If I anthropomorphize an avatar after such a simple chat, how far does this anthropomorphism stretch? And, how can you avoid being victimized by my anthropomophisation-beam, if at all?
A brief answer to the first question: far. Look at these two triangles and circle moving about. Anybody watching it will say they see domestic violence1. Arguably, all this demonstrates is that people understand metaphors, but in any case it shows that we are willing to see human behavior in a triangle.

Other examples of our eagerness to anthropomorphize are found in pet owners (my cat hates me after I’ve been away for the weekend) and anybody who’s used a computer, ever (I can’t be the only one yelling at it for crashing on deadline day). Follow the guide below, and you’ll never become a victim of, or victimize others with, the anthropobeam.

How to not be struck by my anthropobeam:

  • Stop looking so human. Fall into the Uncanny Valley of eeriness by looking just a tad artificial2.
  • Stop moving so human-like. This will only work until I get used to your new artificial movements3.
  • Stop any goal-directed movement. If I can’t predict your behavior, I won’t see you as an agent4. Even robots can be seen as goal-directed4, 5, so you have your work cut out for you.
  • Stop your typical human moving-about-ness. If your body and eyes don’t make any unnecessary movements, I will find you uncanny and unnatural6.

Under the heading of “it’s not you, it’s me”, characteristics of mine will also determine whether I will strike you with my anthropobeam.

How to avoid striking with this superpower7:

  • Stop being lonely. The crazy old catlady is crazy about her cats because she is lonely enough to equate them to humans.
  • Increase your “need for cognition”. By wanting to understand things and thinking deeply, you’ll be more picky before you fire your anthropobeam.
  • Learn more about everything. If you have an alternative explanation (my PC crashed because it was too hot due to me working for hours on end), you are less likely to apply the simple explanation (my PC is out to get me).
  • Constantly remind yourself of the differences between yourself and others. By finding yourself mostly dissimilar to others, you’re less likely to project a human mind onto them.
  • To minimize your offspring’s anthropobeam: raise them in a different culture. Us Westerners are raised with Disney, and see Bambi when we look at deer. People from other cultures look at Bambi and they see dinner. No complex inner life, just skin it, bake it, eat it.
  • Don’t take any interest in understanding or predicting others. The moment you do, you’ll fire your anthropobeam to make sense of their actions based on your own.

So if you’re fed up with seeing human-ness in everything and everyone, make your anthropomorphisation less extensive using the tips above. Life will be less predictable, but more accurate in many cases!


1 Heider, F., Simmel, M., (1944). An experimental study of apparent behavior. American Journal of Psychology 57, 243–259.
2 Mori, M. (1970/2012). The uncanny valley (K. F. MacDorman & N. Kageki, Trans.). IEEE Robotics & Automation Magazine, 19(2), 98–100.
3 Press, C., Gillmeister, H., & Heyes, C. (2007). Sensorimotor experience enhances automatic imitation of robotic action. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 274(1625), 2509-2514.
4 Sciutti, A., Bisio, A., Nori, F., Metta, G., Fadiga, L., & Sandini, G. (2013). Robots can be perceived as goal-oriented agents. Interaction Studies, 14(3), 329-350.
5 Chaminade, T., & Cheng, G. (2009). Social cognitive neuroscience and humanoid robotics. Journal of Physiology-Paris, 103(3), 286-295.
6 Minato, T., Shimada, M., Ishiguro, H., & Itakura, S. (2004). Development of an android robot for studying human-robot interaction. Innovations in Applied Artificial Intelligence (pp. 424-434). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.
7 Epley, N., Waytz, A., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2007). On seeing human: a three-factor theory of anthropomorphism. Psychological Review, 114(4), 864.