Anthropomorphism Theory

Anthropomorphism Theory was developed by Nicholas Epley, Adam Wayts, and John T. Cacioppo in 2007. The theory describes the tendency to imbue nonhuman agents’ real or imagined behavior with humanlike characteristics, motivations, or emotions. The main point of anthropomorphism is that human characteristics or behaviors are attributed to an animal or object (Eplay et al., 2007).

The origin of the word anthropomorphism comes from the Greek words. Anthropos means human, and morph means physical shape, so it is the physical shape of a human. According to the authors, there are three types of anthropomorphism:

  • The partial type of anthropomorphism is when a person thinks an object has human features. This type is adapted to brands or products and is often used in marketing strategies where consumers easily assign human traits to their objects; however, they do not consider them literally and completely human beings.
  • The literal type of anthropomorphism occurs when an individual perceives the entity as truly being a person, which happens with pets when someone talks to his(her) pet and considers them as whole human beings.
  • The accidental type of anthropomorphism is found when people give human characteristics to nonhuman agents in a completely anecdotal and time-limited manner. The most explicit example of this kind of coincidence is seeing a woman’s face through a particular shape of clouds.

First and foremost, anthropomorphism is present in most advertisements where the product is supposed to solve all the problems of human beings. We are confronted with many examples of anthropomorphic products daily, like Coke bottles in the shape of female bodies, the fronts of cars drawn to look like a face, and many others. For sure, anthropomorphism is used in food advertising, such as M&M’s and cornflakes.

According to the Uncanny Valley theory (Misselhorn, 2009), an object that does not have many humanlike characteristics but very typical and silent characteristics can be anthropomorphic. However, too many human characteristics cause significant confusion for users, who do not know whether they are interacting with a human or a robot.

An anthropomorphic product is a product to which one or more human characteristics have been added. Anthropomorphism has a perceived similarity between products’ external appearance and some human physical attributes-resembling the human body (Mayasari et al., 2022). It can be a human form, a human face, a human movement, or even giving a human voice to an object.

Studies showed that adding human characters to an object positively affects consumer attitudes toward the brand, brand trust, and willingness to pay a premium price (Folse et al., 2012). Giving a human name, appearance, or voice makes the product more special and personal. A synonym for anthropomorphization often used in the marketing and advertising context is “personification” (Cohen, 2014). Gilis and Kervyn de Meerendré (2017) described four types of personification:

  • A person who personifies the brand. In this case, the brand has a name that resembles a person.
  • A person who is the spokesperson for the brand. The person is an agent who verbally fights for her, explains her, gives credibility, and delivers a message for the consumer to see the brand positively.
  • A person who is a brand ambassador. It is an ambassador with a unique shape, appearance, or costume used for brand promotion.
  • A person who is a mascot for the brand. A distinctive person who exclusively collaborates with the brand with the aim of showing the goodwill of the brand and a positive reaction and feelings towards her.

To sum up, the notion of anthropomorphism provides us with a deep window through which to view and comprehend the universe. Projecting human traits onto nonhuman entities is not only a projection but also a cognitive technique ingrained in our evolutionary past. When it comes to how we understand animals, objects, or natural phenomena, anthropomorphism acts as a cognitive bridge that makes it easier for us to understand the intricate and frequently mysterious details of our environment. It draws attention to the fundamental human need to look for comfort and meaning in what is foreign to us.

Furthermore, the theory calls into question established distinctions between humans and nonhumans and encourages us to reevaluate our interactions with the natural world. Understanding how anthropomorphism permeates society and shapes our attitudes, actions, and social structures forces us to approach our relationships with the world and its inhabitants with a humility and awareness that we never had before. In the end, the theory of anthropomorphism encourages us to investigate the complex strands that bind humankind to the larger fabric of existence, developing a greater understanding of the interdependence of all living creatures.


Cohen, R. J. (2014). Brand personification: Introduction and overview. Psychology & Marketing, 31(1), 1-30.

Epley, N., Waytz, A., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2007). On seeing human: a three-factor theory of anthropomorphism. Psychological Review, 114(4), 864-886.

Folse, J. A. G., Moulard, J. G., & Raggio, R. D. (2012). Psychological ownership: A social marketing advertising message appeal?. International Journal of Advertising, 31(2), 291-315.

Gilis, D., & Kervyn de Meerendré, N. (2017). La perception des marques qui utilisent l’anthropomorphisme et l’objectification dans la publicité–La dimension d’humanité et d’authenticité de marque. Louvain School of Management, Université catholique de Louvain.

Mayasari, I., & Haryanto, H. C. (2022). The elements of brand anthropomorphism: Qualitative investigation into local brands amongst young adult consumers. Asean Marketing Journal, 14(1), 4.

Misselhorn, C. (2009). Empathy with inanimate objects and the uncanny valley. Minds and Machines, 19, 345-359.