Why Do We Anthropomorphise?


Anthropomorphism is ‘considered as the attribution of human characteristics and the qualities to non-human beings, objects or natural phenomena’. Giving human characteristics to animals and inanimate objects is a natural human trait. Today we find that anthropomorphism is used increasingly in films, cartoons and books aimed towards children. We grew up with Humphrey B Bear, and A Bug’s Life. Children now have Dora The Explorer and Go Diego Go.

Like anything, this humanisation of animals can be quite dangerous for people and their environment. In some cases, audiences have become so sensitised to this new, false image of animals that they question why animals attack. People are so used to the humanised versions of animals we see in film that they start to forget that animals are in fact animals. This idea is shown through the attacks at SeaWorld from the captive orcas. As mentioned in Brereton’s Environmental Ethics and Film (2015) ‘wildlife films can (intentionally in some cases, unintentionally in others) provide viewers with heavily mediated but potentially transformative modes of access to the emotional lives of our non-human kin’ (Wlling in Weik von Mossner, 2014). After visits to SeaWorld, a lot of young children dream of being an animal trainer when they grow up. They see the trainers at the time being allowed to kiss and swim with dolphins, and that inspires them. This dream doesn’t become a reality for a large majority, once the find out what is actually going on behind the scenes. BlackFish (2013) went against what Brereton (2015) describes as the norm and introduced audiences to the reality of training sea animals. While in the moment, audiences don’t always stop and think that the animals on show are usually beaten and harmed when they don’t cooperate. The documentary detailed experiences about how animals were starved if they couldn’t perform tricks and the orcas were racked if they underperformed.

Continuing with education about animals, films such as Finding Nemo ‘contain a very explicit moral fable against removing reef fish from their habitat’ (Brereton, 2015). “Fish are friends, not food” wasn’t just thrown in there for comedic relief. The film criticises the idea of keeping wild animals as pets to portray to the viewer that captivity is harmful. There are actually many positives when it comes to anthropomorphism. The experience, through films and television shows, isn’t always a negative one.

While in the anthropomorphic imaginative state, we learn more about other animals while experiencing feeling very similar to theirs. This makes us want to help the animals in any way we can to minimise their levels of suffering. These animals, created for media purposes, possess emotions of happiness, sadness, fear, etc. The animals in Disney’s Cinderella can talk and interact with human characters and can clearly show emotion. This can teach younger audiences that animals do experience the emotions most would only identify as human. While still trying to push the point across that some animals in particular are dangerous, they are still capable of feeling hurt, distress and happiness.

The use of anthropomorphism proves to be successful for entertainment and educational purposes. The message may not be noticed by younger audiences during one viewing, but as time goes on and education about animals increases, the message almost always reaches the target audience.


Brereton, Pat. Environmental Ethics And Film. 1st ed. Routledge, 2015.

“Anthropomorphism Of Animals: Types, Pros And Cons – RHEG”. Raymondinegypt.tripod.com. N.p., 2016. Web.

Blackfish. Gabriela Cowperthwaite, 2013. Film.

“‘Blackfish’: The Documentary That Exposes Seaworld”. SeaWorld of Hurt. Web. 





A ‘selfie’ is a self-portrait, typically taken on a smartphone and shared via social media. Selfie’s dominate most social media feeds and can be used for promotion, and to showcase self-identity, worth and mood. Selfies allow us to control and dictate how others view us.

As popular as it is, selfie taking has developed quite a negative stigma. Take a photo of your own face? It’s narcissistic. But get someone else to take a photo of your face? It’s not the same, apparently. Somehow, these two different photo styles evoke a world of different responses. Does the effort of capturing, editing and posting selfies take away from the legitimacy of the photo? Why are people still being shamed for sharing them? These self-portraits today are very similar to what was being presented in the past. It’s not a particularly new ideal. They’re a way of us controlling how we are being portrayed in the online world. Herring (2015) states that “self presentation is generally considered to be motivated by a desire to make a favourable impression on others…”. Herring’s current research is concerned with how teenagers present themselves through social media. It considers the implications of social media use, profile constructions, visual and textual self-presentation, profile visibility, truthfulness, and other facets of teens’ self-presentation in relation to their gender. As much as we don’t like to admit it, we are constantly judging and monitoring others on our social media feeds. Social media and selfies are being used to gain status and carve the identity we always wished we had.

It’s still quite a new concept but status on social media is a big deal to some people. To Youtube and other online stars, it’s their livelihood. There are still a lot of people out there don’t care about their follower count at all but there are others who will delete photos from Instagram and status’ from Facebook if they don’t get over a specific number of likes. These people get trapped into thinking that their follower count reflects who they are in real life and how they are represented. Katrin Tiindenburg introduces us to the idea of a popularity paradox. These individuals feel the need to provide an excess amount of pictures and selfies, or perform in a particular way to gain more likes and followers on any given social media site (Tiindenburg, 2015). This kind of lifestyle contributes to their anxieties and nervousness of underperforming for their audience and not meeting their expectations. Tiindenburg (2015) argues that self-shooting, of selfie-taking, is a therapeutic act. While this may be the case, have we, as society, taken it too far?

A very recent example of this is Australian micro-celebrity Essena O’Neill. O’Neill was a very popular Instagram personality who has become an influential voice on the fakery that is Instagram. In 2015 she did an exposé on the lies behind every single one of her posts and what was required of her from companies. What once started as an innocent account to share photos, it quickly blew out of proportion. She had created, what turned out to be, a very fake and misrepresented online version of herself. O’Neill was being paid by companies to promote their products to her ever growing audience. She was living the ‘perfect life’. She has since gone back and changed the captions of posted photos to reveal what really went on behind the scenes.

essena-oneilessena2google.com essena-oneill-man-repeller-instagrams-4


Herring, Susan C., and Sanja Kapidzic. “Teens, gender, and self-presentation in social media.” International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioural Sciences. 2nd ed. Oxford: Elsevier (2015): 1-16.

Tiidenberg, K. and E. Gomez Cruz. “Selfies, Image And The Re-Making Of The Body”. Body & Society 21.4 (2015): 77-102.