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Is this puppy sad? Probably, yes, but we can't know for sure. If it wrong to anthropomorphize, the opposite, to anthropodimorphize, must be as wrong (photo by unknown).

Anthropomorphism (from the Greek ánthrōpos, ἄνθρωπος = human, and morphē, μορφή =form) is an interpretation of what is not human in terms of human characteristics.[1]

Even though anthropomorphism is accepted and largely used in literature and movies, it is a practice to be avoided in science.


Anthropomorphizing in Science

Scientists avoid anthropomorphic language, suggesting other animals have human intentions and emotions, as it may indicate a lack of objectivity.  Biologists are warned to avoid presuming that animals share the same mental, social, and emotional capacities of humans, and to rely instead on strictly observable evidence.[2] In 1927, Ivan Pavlov wrote that animals should be considered "[...] without any need to resort to fantastic speculations as to the existence of any possible subjective states".[3]

In 1871,[4] Charles Darwin wrote, "Nevertheless the difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind." In 1872,[5] he drew parallels between human and nonhuman animals. Darwin was not anthropomorphizing, rather drawing our attention to the continuity of traits in different species, including Homo sapiens sapiens. Ethology has, though, generally focused on behavior, not on emotion in animals,[6] maybe because emotions are difficult to define and measure, and are not observable—what we observe is their expressions.


On the other hand, some ethologists defend that we denying that animals have some characteristics and disregard them, purely because these seem to be very human, is as great a sin as anthropomorphizing.

De Waal writes, "To endow animals with human emotions has long been a scientific taboo. But if we do not, we risk missing something fundamental, about both animals and us."[7] The same basic idea is explored by the author or this wiki, "Attributing human characteristics to animals is wrong. However, it seems to me that the opposite of anthropomorphism is as wrong, that is, to say that animals cannot be happy or sad because these are human emotions. It is true that we can’t prove whether an animal is happy or sad, but we can’t prove either that it can’t."[8]

We can't prove that animals, other than humans, have particular emotions. All we can see is their behavior but the same applies to humans. "The argument for anthropomorphism is valid enough: if I can’t prove (verify) something, I’d better disregard it (at least scientifically); and I can’t prove that my dog is happy, sad, or loves me. Then again, we are not better off with our spouses, children, friends, not to speak of strangers. What do we know about their feelings and emotions? We can’t prove either that they are happy, sad, or love us. We presume it (and we are often wrong) because we compare their behavior with our own when we are in notably similar states of mind."[8] As Carl Sagan wrote, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”[9] We know nothing about one or the other. All we can see is behavior and the rest is guesswork.

One may argue that there is a difference between comparing humans with one another, and humans with other animals. Humans are, after all, members of the same species. It appears to make sense to presume that if I am sad when I show a particular behavior, then you must also be sad when you show a similar behavior. That may be a point, even though not a very scientific one; and it is not always valid. Cultural diversities play us many tricks. Some expressions cover completely different emotions in distinct cultures.

It appears that our attributing feelings to others, e.g. being happy or sad, is not a scientific one. It is more a case of empathy, or being able to set ourselves in the place of others. Researchers have uncovered that other primates besides humans, as well as other mammals, show empathy.[10][11] Recent studies have found that honeybees are capable of indicating a kind of emotional response;[12] and honey-bees, as invertebrates, account for about 95% of all species.

The only reason for our inference that someone feels something particular is by resemblance. If so, we fail to see why we cannot accept that animals (at least some species) also can be happy, sad, etc. The inter-species comparison is a more distant one, but are we not, ultimately, sons and daughters of the same DNA?

If we can’t prove that everyone experiences emotions similarly enough to allow us to attribute them to a particular category, it seems to make no sense to accept a claim based on the fact that because humans know of love, happiness, and sadness, other animals (absolutely) don’t. Most probably, there is a “[...] difference [...] of degree and not of kind,”[4] as Darwin wrote. "Therefore, if it is a sin to attribute human characteristics to other animals, it must also be a sin to say that because we do, they don’t, because we can, they can’t. The first is, as we know, called anthropomorphism; the second, I will coin anthropodimorphism."[note 1][8]


  1. Anthropodimorphism is made of anthropo (human) and dimorphism (different form).

See Also


  1. Merriam-Webster (2017). "Anthropomorphism". Retrieved 2017-10-10. 
  2. Shapiro, K. J. (1993). "Editor's Introduction to Society and Animals". Society & Animals. Volume 1, Issue 1: 1–4. ISSN 1063-1119. doi:10.1163/156853093X00091. Retrieved 2017-10-10. 
  3. Pavlov, I. P. (1927). Conditioned reflexes: An investigation of the physiological activity of the cerebral cortex (PDF). Oxford: Oxford University Press: Humphrey Milford. Retrieved 2017-10-10. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Darwin, C. (1871). The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (PDF). John Murray. p. 65. Retrieved 2017-10-10. 
  5. Darwin, C. (1872). The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (PDF). John Murray. Retrieved 2017-10-12. 
  6. Black, J (Jun 2002). "Darwin in the world of emotions" (Free full text). Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine95 (6): 311–3. ISSN 0141-0768. PMC 1279921 . PMID 12042386. doi:10.1258/jrsm.95.6.311.
  7. de Waal, Frans (1997). "Are We in Anthropodenial?". Discover. 1997-07: 50–53. Retrieved 2017-10-10. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Abrantes, R. (2017-03-08). "Do Animals Have Feelings?". Ethology Journal Online. Retrieved 2017-10-10. 
  9. Sagan, C. (1997) The Demon-Haunted World. Ballantine Books. ISBN: 0345409469
  10. de Waal, F. (2010). The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society. Broadway Books. ISBN 0307407772. 
  11. Horner, V.; Carter, J. D.; Suchak, M.; de Waal, F. B. (2011). "Spontaneous prosocial choice by chimpanzees.". Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Aug 16;108(33):13847-51. doi:10.1073/pnas.1111088108. 
  12. Perry, C.; et al. (2016-09-30). "Unexpected rewards induce dopamine-dependent positive emotion–like state changes in bumblebees". Science. 30 Sep 2016: 1529–1531. doi:10.1126/science.aaf4454. Retrieved 2017-10-10. 

External Links

  • [1] Abrantes, R. (1997). Dog Language—An Encyclopedia of Canine Behavior. Naperville: Wakan Tanka Publishers. ISBN 0966048407.
  • [2] Abrantes, R. (2003). The Evolution of Canine Social Behavior (2nd Edition). Naperville: Wakan Tanka Publishers. ISBN 0966048415.
  • [3] Chance, P. (2013). Learning and Behavior (7th Edition). Wadsworth Publishing. ISBN 1111832773.
  • [4] Ethology Journal Online. Ethology Institute Cambridge.
  • [5] Ethology Institute Cambridge—Books.
  • [6] McFarland, D. (1998). Animal Behaviour: Psychobiology, Ethology and Evolution (3rd Edition). San Francisco: Benjamin Cummings. ISBN 0582327326.