The Elephant in the Room

Animals are pretty much the best. I have enough to know that for sure. I have my own menagerie at home consisting of 45 fish, three chickens, one bunny and one cat. They are all loved, cared for and have their own distinctive personality which I adore. My animals are the reasons that if I died and was reincarnated, I would want to be one of my pets – technicalities aside.
I also am guilty of giving them a little bit of human characteristics. Who doesn’t? Our pets are family, and we treat them as such.

There is a name for this though, Anthropomorphism. Anthropomorphism is the inference of human characteristics and traits onto something nonhuman.  Be it animal or object (Epley et al, 2007).  We even have sayings like “Mother Earth” and even Gods have humanoid qualities (Judaism and Islam do not).  It is most common when talking about animals.  Through anthropomorphism we give a human voice to those who seem voiceless.  We connect to them through this, and our media conveys this all the time.  Children do it a lot but that is probably helped along by their media exposure to animals with human characteristics such as Peppa the Pig, or Winnie the Pooh and Spot the Dog.  It helps children relate to human issues through the faces and stories of animal characters (Burke, 2004).  I could name about a hundred books, movies, tv shows where the characters are animals yet their stories and nature are human. And they’re not all for children with books such as Orwell’s Animal Farm, Planet of the Apes and Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven.  But does this give the animals the respect they deserve, or does it remove their own agency as a living being?

We reduce animals childlike animations, the term “bambification” which was used to describe when an animal is turned into something that is only endearing and cute. It doesn’t reflect what the actual animal is and it’s behaviour (De Waal, 2001), so removes us further from understanding the animal itself (Kesling, 2011).

Something that sticks in my mind is how zoo animals can be treated. Seals made to clap, pretend to play dead, play detective. Sure, it’s all fun and games but that isn’t what they are, that isn’t what they do. I’m sure zoo’s will argue until they turn blue about how they aren’t sufferering. But this is abnormal to the nature of these animals. It has even been noted that “Animals that have developed stereotyped behaviour may persist in such stereotypes even when transferred to a more enriched environment or exposed to novel objects.”(Seal Conservation Society, 2011). And I have a feeling that the anthropomorphism conducted by those involved onto these animals has something to contribute.

 

 

Burke , C, 2004. Animals as People in Children’s Literature. Language Arts, Vol. 81 No. 3, 205-213.

Epley et al, Nicholas, 2007. On Seeing Human: A Three-Factor Theory of Anthropomorphism. Psychological Review, [Online]. 114, No.4, 864-886. Available at: https://maddyellen.files.wordpress.com/2017/03/5caeb-on-seeing-human.pdf [Accessed 26 March 2017].

Joyce Kesling. 2011. Anthropomorphism, Double-Edged Sword. [ONLINE] Available at: https://responsibledog.net/2011/05/21/anthropomorphism-double-edged-sword/. [Accessed 25 March 2017].

Seal Conservation Society . 2011. Pinnipeds in Captivity. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.pinnipeds.org/seal-information/rehabilitation-and-captivity/pinnipeds-in-captivity. [Accessed 26 March 2017].

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