Anthropomorphism as Cognitive Bias

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Dacey, Mike
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conference paper description
Philosophers and psychologists have long worried that a human tendency to anthropomorphize leads us to err in our understanding of nonhuman minds. This tendency, which I call intuitive anthropomorphism, is a heuristic used by our unconscious folk psychology to understand the behavior of nonhuman animals. I argue that the dominant understanding of intuitive anthropomorphism underestimates its complexity. It does often lead us to err, but not always. And the errors it produces are not only overestimations of nonhuman intelligence. If we want to understand and control intuitive anthropomorphism, we must treat is as a cognitive bias, and look to the empirical evidence. The literature on controlling implicit social biases is particularly helpful. That literature suggests that the most common for intuitive anthropomorphism, Morgan’s Canon, should be rejected, while others need supplementation. It also suggests new approaches.