Anthropomorphism: why we humanize animals

Anthropomorphism describes the phenomenon to which we attribute human characteristics to animals and things. You can find out exactly what this is all about in this article.

The concept of anthropomorphism dates back to the sixth century BC. At the time, the philosopher Xenophanes asserted that the gods were very similar in form to humans. He concluded that humans simply passed on their traits and behaviors to the gods. Today the term also describes the humanization of animals, objects, weather phenomena, and other non-human entities.

In particular, the transfer of human characteristics to animals involves both opportunities and risks – depending on how much we push towards humanity.

How does stereotaxification work?

In children’s books and series, we often come across animals that are anthropomorphized. They experience human trials, and can talk, laugh, and cry like humans. They even appear in fables as the central heroes, each embodying certain characteristics. For example, the fox is smart and evasive, the Aries is naive and good-natured, and the greedy magpie.

In children’s literature, anthropomorphism is used in this way to help children understand the story. Since the character traits of certain animals are repeated over and over, the plot is easy to understand. Examples of anthropomorphic children’s stories are, for example, Captain Bluebear, Benjamin Blümchen, Maya the Bee or The Mouse Show.

Personification can also be found in films or documentaries about wild animals – for example when the narrator describes animals as sad, angry, or happy.

When we humanize things or phenomena in nature, this often serves to simplify what is actually a complex problem. With “My laptop falls asleep again” we want to make it clear that the laptop is no longer working properly due to a technical problem. Phrases like “the forest is suffering again” or “the storm is about to start again” simplify the complex processes and consequences in our environment. In fact, according to a 1944 study by psychologists Haider and Semel, it seems that we tend to attribute something human to non-human entities. It doesn’t matter if it’s our mobile phone, a vacuum cleaner robot, or a passing cloud.

Anthropomorphism in animals: justified?

Anthropomorphs can help us feel more empathy for animals. (Photo: CC0/Pixabay/IMAGE-WS)

It’s indisputable that animals don’t think and feel the way children’s cartoons do. However, contrary to popular belief, behavioral biologist Carsten Prinsing supports the thesis that animals certainly think and feel – and in this respect are not very different from humans.

Humans and animals evolved together. Strictly speaking, humans fall into the category of mammals. According to Brensing, the fact that humans differ from animals in their thinking is an outdated assumption. In fact, the same processes and functions in animals occur in the nervous system. Scientifically Proven: This is how animals pass the same reasoning tests as humans.

In everyday life, which are determined by many routines and in which we can rely on simple control mechanisms, we mainly use our animal brain. This means that we feel and think like all other animals. Only when it comes to the most complex thought processes does humans have an advantage over animals. For example, we can think abstractly and remember many more things than most animals.

However, Brensing emphasizes, we greatly underestimate the way animals think and feel. He would like us to make animals more humane. After all, there are few reasons to continue to maintain the strong contrast between animals and humans.

And finally, according to FAZ, anthropomorphism can have a positive effect on our attitude towards animals. If we also show compassion for animals, it may also awaken the protective instinct in us. This may increase our involvement in animal welfare. You can learn more about this here: Compassion for animals: why it matters.

When the humanization of animals goes too far

If we humanize animals too much, it can have disastrous consequences for humans and animals.
If we humanize animals too much, it can have disastrous consequences for humans and animals. (Photo: CC0/Pixabay/StockSnap)

However, anthropomorphism in animals can also have negative effects – particularly when we impose human needs on our pets. Then the animals sleep in a bed with people, spend most of their day in the apartment and sometimes get a little treat.

According to the MDR article, this can have serious consequences on both sides: Dogs and cats, for example, need to have enough space to run around and let off steam. In addition, cats and birds should always have the opportunity to hunt. And there are also dos and don’ts for animals when it comes to nutrition: for example, some foods we love to eat are toxic to animals. Chocolate, for example, can be life-threatening to dogs. For some omnivores, a vegetarian or vegan diet can cause nutritional deficiencies that can lead to death. This is especially true for cats.

There are also many pathogens that are transmitted between humans and animals. For example, if dogs become infected with a fox tapeworm while walking in the woods, the pathogen quickly spreads to humans when they are in close embrace. This is also dangerous in the other direction: humans can transmit herpes to animals, for example. This can be fatal to rabbits and chinchillas.

Conclusion: anthropomorphism in moderation!

Humanization of animals and things is often harmless. It helps us solve complex problems and can bring humor and lightness to everyday life. Embodiment in animals can also help us develop more empathy for them, and thus act cautiously or fight for animal rights.

However, if we take humanism too far and treat animals simply as slightly different people, the relationship is no longer healthy, especially for the animals involved. That’s why you should always do some research on a pet’s specific needs before deciding to live with them.


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