Are They Really Trying to Save Their Buddy? The Anthropomorphism of Animal Epimeletic Behaviours
Université de Strasbourg, CNRS, IPHC UMR 7178, F-67000 Strasbourg, France
Centre Européen d’Enseignement et de Recherche en Éthique, F-67000 Strasbourg, France
Institut Universitaire de France, 75006 Paris, France
Anthropo-Lab, ETHICS EA7446, Lille Catholic University, 59000 Lille, France
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 26 October 2020
Revised: 26 November 2020
Accepted: 4 December 2020
Published: 7 December 2020
Anthropomorphism, defined as attributing human traits to animals and other entities, seems to have appeared during evolution to improve an individual’s understanding of other species (or indeed the world in general). Yet anthropomorphism can have beneficial or harmful consequences especially for animals, and there seems to be little interest in monitoring the potential danger of this approach. Few studies have focused on the factors affecting how we attribute intentions or beliefs to animals, and more quantitative studies are needed to identify how and why humans attribute mental states and cognitive abilities to other animals. In this study, participants answer questions about three videos in which an individual (a sparrow, an elephant and a macaque, respectively) displayed behaviours towards an inanimate conspecific that suddenly regained consciousness at the end of the footage. A fourth video showed a robot dog being kicked by an engineer to demonstrate its stability. These questions were designed to measure how far participants attribute humanlike intentions, beliefs or mental states to non-human animals and robots. Men and older participants are less likely to attribute humanlike mental states to animals. Similarly, people who work with animals or have at least one pet at home demonstrated less naïve anthropomorphism. Conversely, we found that members of animal protection associations showed more biophilia (affinity for other living organisms), attributed more intentions and mental states to animals and were further from biological reality (current scientific knowledge of each species) than non-members. Understanding the potential usefulness of these factors can lead to better relationships with animals and encourage human-robot interactions.