“Can Life Truly Imitate Art?”: Imitation of Non-Human Actors and Anthropomorphization.


Anthropomorphization occurs when human characteristics are attributed to nonhuman animals or objects. Past literature has focused on co-representation and the self-other body-part matching mechanism wherein the body of the nonhuman animal is conceptually mapped to the human observer's representation of their body. Based on the existing knowledge it is possible that the anthropomorphization of nonhuman objects could impact automatic imitation. The present study was designed to determine if face-like features can facilitate imitation between an image of a nonhuman object and human observers. A simple reaction-time task was used to measure imitation where participants (N=34, 23 female) responded to a “upper limb” movement of both the nonhuman object (broccoli) and a human control condition. In No Face conditions, two dots and a curved line were randomly distributed within the broccoli. In the Face condition, two dots and a curved represented the eyes and a mouth of a “face”. A repeated measures ANOVA revealed a significant interaction effect between image and movement (F(2.91, 96.05) = 7.90; p = <0.001). Post hoc analysis of the interaction revealed that an imitation effect emerged with the human image, but that a reversed imitation effect emerged with the “face” condition. After the experimental phase participants were asked to complete a brief questionnaire where they were asked to rate all the photos on various scales of anthropomorphization. This study provides unique evidence that the anthropomorphization of a nonhuman cartoon may be influenced by human-like internal features on the image.