We (humans) are absolutely obsessed with viewing and presenting animals in a way that makes them appear more humanlike than what they acutely are. This is evident right throughout western society and becomes extremely apparent when looking at the animals in our media (Burton-Jeangros & Losa 2011 p.339). We see humanised animals appear in children’s books, television shows, media campaigns, in many different forms of advertising, in film, video games, online memes and online videos.
This notion of humanising animals, which is otherwise known as Anthropomorphism, means to give human characteristics such as emotions, intelligence, consciousness, behaviours, and even human facial features to animals or objects.
It is believed that anthropomorphism can be beneficial for animals. By viewing an animal as more of a human than an animal, it can instantly make that animal more appealing to an audience because it helps blur the line between them (the animals) and us. This new appeal created through anthropomorphism can help humans gain an interest or wider understanding toward the animals in which they may not have had before and this can be a vita tool, especially when animal welfare is concerned.
However, like any good, there is always a bad. So, what happens when anthropomorphism goes wrong?
Whilst anthropomorphism generates interest in animals, its biggest issue is that the interest being generated is not in the animal’s true self; rather we begin to understand an inaccurate humanlike version of that animal instead (Burton-Jeangros & Losa 2011 p.353). Essentially, we remove the wild animal from the humanlike one and can forget the true nature of the animal, which is quite problematic.
This became clear recently when my roommate returned from the Sydney aquarium and said that the adults and children were all referring to the fish as Nemo’s and Dory’s from Disney’s famous Finding Nemo. It appeared to her that through anthropomorphism in Finding Nemo, people could no longer recognise these living creatures as clown fish and blue tang fish, but simply happy little cartoon characters.
As people remove themselves from an animal’s true image, it becomes easy to forget real life issues and threats surrounding these creatures (Ross & Vreeman & Lonsdorf 2011 p.1 ), in fact it can lead us to forget that it’s even a wild animal at all.
This is exactly what happened to the Slow Loris recently when a video of one reacting to being tickled went viral.
This video became so popular that it fueled a global demand for the animal as a pet, which lead to extensive illegal hunting and smuggling of the Slow Loris. In fact, it became so bad that Google was asked by activist groups to remove the popular video in an attempt to help the issue (Wertz, 2014).
So, besides giving animals in our media humanlike qualities, we also find ourselves seeking humanlike features within animals that we view. An animal that is small, with big eyes, appearing to enjoy being tickled, may remind us of a human baby or a child (Evans, 2016). For audiences of the Slow Lorris, once that childlike connection was made because it had the traits we find appealing, it was forgotten that it was a wild creature, but instead seen as something that should be ours.
This need we have to humanise animals has now become so desired that the anthropomorphism concepts from films such as Planet of the Apes are being implemented in real life. Currently, scientists in many countries such as the US are inserting human brain cells into Great Apes, such as Chimpanzees in tests that aim to make these animals preform human behaviours such as being able to speak human languages (Independent 2011).
The appeal that humanising animals has on our society really stands out when a public poll showed that ma majority of people were happy for animals to be modified with human cells and genes (Independent 2011).
What I find most surprising in this is that when we look at animals through an anthropomorphism scope, people commonly feel that testing on animals for things such as makeup for example is wrong, because we see them like us. Yet, if testing on the same kinds of animals is to humanise them and make them more like us, people are more accepting. Yet it can be assumed that each test is just as horrible for the animals involved.
It’s clear that anthropomorphism come with its positives and negatives. What needs to change is how and when we use chose to use it, as is having an impact on real and living creatures.
Burton-Jeangros, C & Losa, A 2011, ‘Human and Nonhuman Animals, Mutually at Risk: A Study of the Swiss Information Media’, Society & Animals, vol. 19, no. 4, pp. 337-355.
Evans, Nicky 2016, ‘LOOKING AT ANIMALS’, lecture notes, BCM310, University of Wollongong, 23 March 2016.
The Independent, ‘Experts warn over humanising apes’, Independent, 22 July, viewed 29 March 2016, <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/experts-warn-over-humanising-apes-2318699.html>.
Ross, SR, Vreeman, VM, & Lonsdorf, EV 2011, ‘Specific Image Characteristics Influence Attitudes about Chimpanzee Conservation and Use as Pets’, PLoS ONE, vol. 6, no. 7, pp. 1-5.
Werntz, M 2014, Can ‘humanizing’ animals help conserve them?, DW, viewed 29 March 2016, <http://www.dw.com/en/can-humanizing-animals-help-conserve-them/a-17678428>.
Ross, SR & Vreeman, VM & Lonsdorf, EV 2011, ‘Specific Image Characteristics Influence Attitudes about Chimpanzee Conservation and Use as Pets’, PLoS ONE, vol. 6, no. 7, pp. 1-5.