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Research

Born with a Silver-Faced Spoon in Your Mouth

  • May 29, 2019
Born with a Silver-Faced Spoon in Your Mouth

When you get angry and yell at your computer for unexpectedly shutting down when you were in the middle of writing an important document you are anthropomorphizing. Anthropomorphism is the tendency to envision human traits or features in non-human objects and animals and some of us do this more than others. Ivey researcher, Matt Thomson, and his colleagues find that there are two variables that are related to greater likelihood to engage in anthropomorphizing inanimate objects. The first variable is attachment style. In infancy and childhood we seek to forge bonds with our primary caregivers, typically our parents. Strong loving bonds with caregivers provide a secure base from which a child can explore and learn about their world. The character of those first important relationships create what are known as attachment styles which, broadly speaking, can be considered to be secure or insecure and they are known to endure and affect many aspects of development well into adulthood. An insecure attachment style is characterized by anxiety and avoidance. The second variable is the economic circumstances in which the child grew up. Across a series of three studies, higher rates of the tendency to anthropomorphize objects and animals is linked to having been raised in a wealthy family and having an insecure attachment style. This link is thought to arise from a particular communication style that occurs in wealthier families emphasizing the importance of competence and being responsible for one’s own actions. This can interact then with the anxiety and avoidance behaviours of an insecure attachment style to increase the likelihood of seeing inanimate objects as being motivated to behave the way they do. Back to the example, a person with an insecure attachment style who grew up wealthy would be more likely to perceive the computer shutting off mid-email as being responsible for the lost work because it chose to shut down and this would then, naturally, make that person angry and yell at the computer!

Whelan, J., Hingston, S. T., & Thomson, M. (2019). Does Growing Up Rich and Insecure Make Objects Seem More Human? Childhood Material and Social Environments Interact to Predict Anthropomorphism. Personality and Individual Differences, 137, 86-96.