When Lamps Have Feelings

Empathy and Anthropomorphism Toward Inanimate Objects in Animated Films

in Projections
Author:
Alyssa D. Edwards Broadcast Director, Oral Roberts University, USA alyssa_d_edwards@outlook.com

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Daniel M. Shafer Baylor University, USA daniel_m_shafer@baylor.edu

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Abstract

This article presents a study that investigated the phenomenon of empathic connection with non-human movie characters. Using an original, animated video as a stimulus to explore the relationship between anthropomorphism and empathy, the study found that characters with appendages significantly increased viewers’ empathy and use of anthropomorphic language when compared to a character without appendages. This was true regardless of the type of appendage or whether participants labeled the appendage using human anatomy terms. Additionally, participants’ use of anthropomorphic language was significantly linked to empathy. Thus, anthropomorphism and empathy are connected when viewing animated characters, but an explanation of all factors behind these processes is yet to be discovered.

Contributor Notes

Alyssa D. Edwards received her Master of Arts in Film and Digital Media from Baylor University in 2021. She is currently the broadcast director for Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her research interests encompass video animation, viewer empathy toward movie characters, and anthropomorphism through the lens of cognitive film theory. Email: alyssa_d_edwards@outlook.com

Daniel M. Shafer received his Ph.D. from Florida State University in 2009 and is currently Professor of Film and Digital Media at Baylor University. His research interests include the psychological and physiological effects of new media technology, such as virtual reality and innovative control methods; media psychology; video game and other media enjoyment and appreciation; and morality in media. He is currently involved in several lines of research, including the psychological and physiological effects of virtual reality technology, perceptions of multi-primary color display systems, and the emotional and cognitive effects of watching television and film and of using various types of video games. Email: daniel_m_shafer@baylor.edu.

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Projections

The Journal for Movies and Mind

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