Carnegie Mellon University HCII Work on these projects has finished and the  last update for this site was in 2010. The site will be maintained as a community resource.

Psychology: Perceiving Life

Why do we anthropomorphize?

Anthropomorphism is a psychological process that often starts with animism.

Psychologists have shown that animistic perceptions are automatic and show up in very early infancy. The studies with infants track their eye movements and stares. Infants stare longer at objects that move purposefully.

Here is a robot moving in a self-directed, purposeful trajectory, making it seem animate.

Here is a robot that does not look animate. The robot jumps regardless of the situation.


Scholl, B. J., & Tremoulet, P. D. (2000). Perceptual causality and animacy. Trends in cognitive science, 4, 200-309.

See more titles in the bibliography.

More on the psychology of anthropomorphism: Perceiving Humanlikeness


This website promotes understanding of anthropomorphism. Our work on these projects has finished, but the website will continue to be available as a community resource.