Development and Correlates of Anthropomorphism
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One of the most heavily researched topics of cognitive development concerns children's growing understanding of people's behaviors as reflecting mental states such as beliefs, desires and intentions. Anthropomorphism is the overextension of this conceptual framework, referred to as "theory of mind", to nonhuman animals and inanimate objects. In this dissertation, I investigate the development and correlates of anthropomorphism building on and extending past research with children and adults. In Study 1, I investigated the relation between anthropomorphism, social understanding, and social behaviors that are known to correlate with theory of mind, such as empathy, and prosocial attitudes in a college sample (N = 919). Contrary to my predictions, results showed that anthropomorphism is only weakly related to the measures of social understanding. There was, however, some evidence for a link between anthropomorphism and imaginary companions; individuals who had a history of imaginary companions scored higher on anthropomorphism. In Study 2, I examined the link between theory of mind and anthropomorphism in preschool children. In addition, I investigated the developmental trajectory of anthropomorphism from age 4 to 6 and the relation between anthropomorphism and role play and social preferences. Seventy-four children (36 girls; Mage = 5 years, 5 months; SD = 9 months) took part in this study. In order to assess anthropomorphism in this age group, I used two methods: interview and movie narrative measures. Results revealed no age-related changes in anthropomorphism scores of the children. As in Study 1, I did not find a strong relationship between the theory of mind measures and anthropomorphism. There was, however, more evidence for a link between the interview measure of anthropomorphism and role play, and social preferences of children. Overall, in both studies, theory of mind, the most obvious candidate as a correlate of anthropomorphism, was, at best, not a strong predictor of the anthropomorphism, suggesting the need to rethink how developing knowledge about people is related to the overextension of this knowledge to nonhuman entities. It is possible that a rudimentary understanding of humans is necessary to be able to overextend it, but whether you overextend it might be linked to other factors.