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The Interpretation of Animal Psychology: Anthropomorphism or Behavior Reading?

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A perennial problem in the study of behavior has been the basis for anthropomorphic psychological terminology. Research has suggested that people use a nonhuman animal's perceived similarity to humans based on physical likeness, familiarity, phylogeny, and/or cultural stereotype to characterize it psychologically. One further hypothesis is that people use an animal's behavior-in-context to determine its psychological characterization. These diverse hypotheses were evaluated by providing undergraduates with narratives depicting mammalian (including human) behavior suggestive of jealousy or deception, and asking them to evaluate their degree of agreement or disagreement with particular psychological characterizations of the animal described. Narratives varied the species, the context in which a mammal's behavior occurred, and how strongly it was emphasized that the narrative was about a nonhuman (or human) organism. Species varied in their physical similarity, phylogenetic closeness or familiarity to humans, and/or cultural stereotype as human-like; behavior remained constant in all narratives. In general, variations in the context in which behavior occurred influenced psychological characterization, but variations in species and emphasis did not: psychological characterizations of all species were almost always similar. Nonscientists (and some scientists as well) apparently use a mammal's behavior-in-context (whether human or not) as evidence of its psychological nature, regardless of the mammal's physical similarity, familiarity, or phylogenetic closeness to humans, or the mammal's cultural stereotype; psychological terms are not used specifically for humans, but rather are depictive of behavior-in-context. Psychological terms set the stage for further investigation into an organism's psychological abilities; calling such terms 'anthropomorphic' inaccurately implies that they are extrapolated from human behavior, when they appear to be applicable to particular behavior-in-context, independent of the species behaving.

Affiliations: 1: (Department of Psychology, Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond, KY 40475, USA

10.1163/156853997X00449
/content/journals/10.1163/156853997x00449
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/content/journals/10.1163/156853997x00449
1997-01-01
2016-09-01

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