Avoiding Anthropomorphism

Perhaps you've heard the famous one-liner on anthropomorphism: "Don't anthropomorphize computers: they hate that."

Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics to nonhuman entities. According to APA (2001), it is inappropriate in scholarly writing. "An experiment cannot attempt to demonstrate, control unwanted variables, or interpret findings, nor can tables or figures compare (all of these can, however, show or indicate)" (p. 38).

Let's look at a few examples and solutions.

Anthropomorphism
Solution
This experiment will attempt to demonstrate that pigs can fly. (Remember, an experiment is not the same as the people who performed the experiment. It is not capable of doing anything.) The purpose of this experiment is to demonstrate that pigs can fly.
The statistics argued in favor of adding chocolate to first-aid kits. The statistics indicated that chocolate should be added to first-aid kits.
The literature review discusses three aspects of APA aversion. The literature review includes perspectives on three aspects of APA aversion.
The hospital wanted to explore a way to decrease the number of rabbits in the hallways. The hospital administrators wanted to explore a way to decrease the number of rabbits in the hallways.
The writing tip was successful in reducing the number of anthropomorphisms in doctoral students' papers. After doctoral students read the writing tip, there were fewer anthropomorphisms in their papers.

Still not sure if you can recognize an anthropomorphism?

Think of a cartoon in which a building is smiling and dancing around. Of course, a real building cannot do these things. The cartoonist has given the building the ability to show emotions and take actions that are characteristic of humans. As writers, you are encouraged to use active voice and action verbs whenever possible, but always examine your verbs after you finish your first draft and ask yourself if the subjects of your sentences can really do the things you've said they can or whether you have created a dancing building.