International Journal of Social Robotics

, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 117–127 | Cite as

The Cognitive Bases of Anthropomorphism: From Relatedness to Empathy

  • Gabriella AirentiEmail author


Humans may react very differently with respect to mechanical devices, including robots. They can interact with them with delight or retreat in aversion or fear. According to the famous model of the uncanny valley these opposite reactions depend on the degree of familiarity that different artifacts engender in humans. The aim of my work is trying to find out the cognitive bases of familiarity, analyzing the origin of anthropomorphic projection, namely human disposition to attribute anthropomorphic features - like intentions or feelings—to artifacts. I shall discuss two concepts: relatedness and empathy, and argue that relatedness is the precondition for empathy. The fact that it is possible to attribute anthropomorphic features virtually to any object shows that resemblance is not the point. Anthropomorphism is a kind of relation that humans establish with an artifact, and in order to comprehend this phenomenon we have to focus on the relational aspect. I shall argue that what we call anthropomorphism is an extension to nonhumans of forms of interactions typical of human communication, i.e. the attribution to an artifact of the position of interlocutor in a possible dialogue. It can be shown that attributing to an artifact the position of interlocutor in a dialogue implies dealing with it as if it were endowed of the features characterizing human mind, i.e. mental states and emotions.


Anthropomorphism Relatedness Empathy Communication Theory of mind 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Cognitive Science, Department of PsychologyUniversity of TurinTurinItaly

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