Tag Archives: Anthropomorphism

How could we stop cigarette butt litter?

Cigarette butts are the tail ends of the cigarette left over after someone has smoked it. They are under-acknowledged, but widespread, pollutants. At the Quora, someone said the following.

In fact, thanks to the fact that for decades smokers just didn’t care where they threw them, there are very likely cigarette butts in the Amazon rain forest, at the North Pole, and on the fast-disappearing Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica. Practically the only place they are difficult to find is where they belong – in the trash bin.

To tackle this issue, various efforts have been suggested. According to Tara Rohan, for instance, posters and videos have been provided to educate people about the environmental impacts of cigarette-butt litter. Alternatively, cans have been installed in select neighborhoods. Most of these efforts aim to nudge smokers to throw cigarette butts in trash bins. Recently, I have noticed an interesting approach in London, UK.

At the Portobello Road market in London, bins are installed for those who want to throw gums and cigarette butts. For an unidentified reason, these bins have baby faces. As research suggests that large, round eyes, high eyebrows, and a small chin yielded the perception of a babyish facial appearance.

Since baby face or Kindchenschema (baby schema) is “related to the vulnerable nature of a living entity, it elicits responses from adults that increase the infant’s chance of survival. These include increased attention to and protection of the helpless infant (Brosch, Sandder, and Scherer 2007; Lorenz 1943) and increased carefulness and caretaking behavior (Sherman, Haidt, and Coan 2009). (Nenkov et al. 2014, pg. 326)”

Nenkov, G. Y., & Scott, M. L. (2014). “So Cute I Could Eat It Up”: Priming Effects of Cute Products on Indulgent Consumption. Journal of Consumer Research, 41(2), 326–341.

Although adding a human face to the tip jar backfires, having a baby face even contributes to the success of high-ranking Black executives. Designing cigarette bins like cute babies must be effective to collect cigarette butts. I wish similar bins are installed in other markets and cities as well to stop cigarette butt litter.

Livingston, R. W., & Pearce, N. A. (2009). The teddy-bear effect: Does having a baby face benefit black chief executive officers?. Psychological science20(10), 1229-1236.

Prior research suggests that having a baby face is negatively correlated with success among White males in high positions of leadership. However, we explored the positive role of such “babyfaceness” in the success of high-ranking Black executives. Two studies revealed that Black chief executive officers (CEOs) were significantly more baby-faced than White CEOs. Black CEOs were also judged as being warmer than White CEOs, even though ordinary Blacks were rated categorically as being less warm than ordinary Whites. In addition, baby-faced Black CEOs tended to lead more prestigious corporations and earned higher salaries than mature-faced Black CEOs; these patterns did not emerge for White CEOs. Taken together, these findings suggest that babyfaceness is a disarming mechanism that facilitates the success of Black leaders by attenuating stereotypical perceptions that Blacks are threatening. Theoretical and practical implications for research on race, gender, and leadership are discussed.

We humanize machine behavior and mechanize human behavior

In order to spice up our daily communication, we often humanize what electronic devices do. For instance, we say, our mobile phone is “stupid” or our storage space “gains weight.” This “anthropomorphism” is defined as the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities. According to Wikipedia, it has ancient roots as storytelling and artistic devices, and most cultures have traditional fables with anthropomorphized animals as characters.

However, there is another way to spice up our daily communication. We can mechanize what humans do. For instance, we say, we need to “upgrade” our brains or we want to go to bed to “recharge.” This “mechanomorphism” is a conception of something (as the universe or a living creature) as operating mechanically or to be fully accounted for according to the laws of physical science. Differently from anthropomorphism, mechanomorphism seems to be more popular among tech-savvy younger generation.

In Hong Kong, I met an excellent example of mechanomorphism. A chalkboard sign outside a coffee shop says “Another coffee is calling you.” Then there are two options: “Remind me every 5 minutes” or “Msg my brain to do it.”

Caporael, L.R. (1986), Anthropomorphism and mechanomorphism: Two faces of the human machine, Computers in Human Behavior, 2 (3), 215-234.

This paper explores the ambiguity of the “human machine”. It suggests that anthropomorphism results from a “default schema” applied to phenomena, including machines, that a perceiver finds otherwise inexplicable. Mechanomorphism, the attribution of machine characteristics to humans, is a culturally derived metaphor that presently dominates cognitive science. The relationships between anthropomorphism and mechanomorphism pose a special difficulty for the question, “Can machines think?” Does a positive response reflect a cognitive bias on the part of the perceiver or a genuine attribute of the computer? The problem is illustrated for Turing’s “imitation game” for thinking machines, and a strategy for constraining anthropomorphic attributions is proposed.

People tip less when the tip jar looks like a human

Henckell is my favorite cafe in Frederiksberg, Copenhagen. It is a local place with great coffee and sandwich. I feel cozy inside. It has only four small tables.

 

 

There is a tip jar next to the credit card machine on the counter table. Interestingly, it has a smiley face, two arms, and two legs. One day out of curiosity, I kept watching how many guests tipped in this human-looking tip jar. Afterwards, I also asked a server whether guests liked it. Surprisingly, I noticed that a few guests hesitated putting coins into this jar for an unknown reason. The server even told me that not few guests complained about the tip jar because its mouth is too small to insert coins.

 

 

When human flavor is added to an object, people like the object. It is supported by academic studies about anthropomorphism. For instance, when a car is anthropomorphized and its characteristics are congruent with the proposed human schema, people evaluate it positively (Aggarwal and McGill 2007). When a garbage bin is anthropomorphized (e.g., “feed me”), people follow the message and show prosocial behaviors (Ahn, Kim, Aggarwal 2013). When an innovative, uncertain product is anthropomorphized (e.g., “this little guy”), people tend to adopt this product (Jiang, Hoegg, and Dahl 2011).

However, anthropomorphism might backfire if the usefulness of the product is sacrificed. When I come back to this cafe, I want to draw a different character with a bigger mouth and see what happens.