The attribution of human attributes to mythical creatures inanimate objects or nonhuman organisms

The term is derived from Greek: anthropos—human being, morphe—form. Anthropomorphism owes much to anthropocentricity, i.e. our "a priori inclination to regard ourselves as the centre of the universe and see the world through our "biased eyes. By doing so we probably hope to gain some illusory control over reality. Anthropomorphism is intensively and recurrently exemplified in ancient myths, literature, and art (e.g. Burkert 1985). Occasionally, it had also infiltrated other social activities: throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, horses and pigs were dragged to public trial because it was believed that they are "consciously aware of their own acts and hence are liable for them (Evans 1906). In the early days of experimental psychology, anthropomorphism was popular (Boakes 1984), being influenced by the Darwinian theory of evolution that suggested a mental continuum along with the physical one. The "classics of the anthropomorphic tradition in animal psychology are books by Darwin (1872) and Romanes (1882). The transformation of psychology into a more objective and quantitative scientific enterprise was accompanied by attempts to abandon anthropomorphic anecdotes that portrayed pets as geniuses, and to adhere to parsimonious explanations of animal behaviour, such as advocated by Loyd Morgan's canon ("Ockham's razor). However, anthropomorphism still pops out between, and occasionally in, the lines of current research articles in biology and psychology (e.g. see discussions in Kennedy 1992; Sullivan 1995).

Anthropomorphic accounts could be classified into two kinds: "metaphorical and explanatory. The metaphorical are the more innocent ones. They may add colour to an otherwise rather dry scientific account. To describe the behaviour of protozoa as '... if they did not enjoy being alone and had passed the word along to gather and hold a mass meeting' (Jennings 1899) is a matter of style only, as far as the description does not lead the reader (and even more so the writer) to assign to the unicellular organism "declarative human-like social drives. Explanatory anthropomorphism, however, may result in embarrassing errors. A trivial example is the exposure of teeth in monkeys; what could be construed by the approaching novice as a friendly smile might actually be an expression of threat.

Possibly most relevant to current neurobiological research is our innate tendency for implicit anthropomorphism, i.e. tacitly construing the behaviour of animals in terms of problem solving "algorithms that could have been used by the human observer. This should especially be taken into account in cases in which sophisticated cognitive faculties are suggested, for example the formation of cognitive "maps in insects (Wehner and Menzel 1990), of "learning sets in rodents (Reid and Morris 1993), or of "observational learning in invertebrates (Fiorito and Scotto 1992). Implicit anthropomorphism may result not only in superfluously complex explanations but also in excessively austere ones. As these lines are being written, hundreds of diligent postdocs are running rats or mice in water "mazes, assuming that from the outset, all that the wet animal has in mind from the outset of the experiment is the urge to learn the shortest way to the platform and take a break, because this is what the experimenter would have done. While still wishing to escape the water, in reality, some of the drives and strategies pursued by the swimming rodent are species specific (e.g. Wolfer et al. 1998).

There is, however, a twist to the story. In spite of the aforementioned caveats and reservations, the mere fact that an explanation has an anthropomorphic connotation is not sufficient to demote it. In other words, 'anthropomorphism' per se cannot be used as a "criterion in refuting or accepting explanations and "models. The truth is that we do not really know the borders between the mental faculties of other mammals and those that are sometimes considered as exclusive privileges of "Homo sapiens. For example, when rodents associate events, are they "consciously aware of it (Clark and Squire 1998; "declarative memory)? And if they are, what is the depth and quality of their conscious awareness? In recent years, the more we learn about the physiology and psychophysics of animals, the more we become astonished to discover that even species far remote from us on the phylogenetic scale seem to perceive some aspects of the world not so differently from us (e.g. Nieder and Wagner 1999). This raises the possibility that underestimating the capabilities of their brain is as misleading as overestimating it. There is no reason why we should not expect to find in evolution a gradient of antropolikeness on a great variety of faculties, such as *planning, *prospective memory, complex problem solving, or *insight. It is even still debated whether symbolic language had really emerged in humans only (Walker 1983; Griffin 1984; Cheney and Seyfarth 1990).

But, whereas some anthropolike mental faculties, such as numerical competence, are amenable to objective measurement (Davis and Perusse 1988; Bran-non and Terrace 1998; Kawai and Matsuzawa 2000), others, e.g. subtle emotions, are not. We may therefore never be able to really know what it is like to be a bat (Nagel 1974). We are hence left with the humble conclusion that the interplay between prudent adherence to Ockham's razor on the one hand, and proper appreciation of the phylogenetic and ecological specialization of other species' brains on the other, is delicate indeed.

Selected associations: Artefact, Bias, Clever Hans, Declarative memory, Subject

Fig. 4 It works both ways: an apeomorphized version of Charles Darwin in a contemporary caricature. Faithful to the *zeitgeist that his theory of evolution reinforced, Darwin himself anthropomorphized animal behaviour in The expression of the emotions in man and animals (1872).
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