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Beyond Anecdotes: An Empirical Study of "Anthropomorphism"

In: Society & Animals
Authors:
Paul Morris Department of Psychology, University of Portsmouth, King Henry 1 Street, King Henry Building, Portsmouth PO1 2DY.

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Margaret Fidler
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Alan Costall
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Abstract

The status of "anthropomorphic" descriptions of animals in terms of intentions and emotions has been generally regarded as a prescriptive methodological concern. In contrast, in the study of human social psychology the nature of psychological descriptions of other people has been approached as a substantive empirical issue. Following this lead, the present study investigated the nature of people's descriptions of short videotaped episodes of animal behavior. The descriptions obtained were predominantly anthropomorphic and structured according to a limited set of "event units" whose psychological meaning was highly consistent across the observers. In common with many social psychologists we conclude that consistency of anthropomorphic description suggests that meaning is specified within the structure of behavior.

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