Lovable lamps and sad umbrellas : empathizing with inanimate objects in animated films.


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Why do people empathize with movie characters who aren’t human beings? What causes viewers to perceive inanimate objects as people, such as the hopping lamp in Pixar’s Luxo Jr.? These questions are under-researched in scholarly literature. Thus, this study used an original, animated video as a stimulus to explore the relationship between anthropomorphism and empathy and to investigate how participants labeled characters’ limbs. Because definitions vary greatly, this paper first defines “anthropomorphism” and “empathy.” The study found that the presence of appendages significantly increased both empathy and the use of anthropomorphic language when compared to the limbless character, regardless of the type of appendage or whether participants labeled it with 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.



Empathy. Anthropomorphism. Animation. Film. Embodied simulation. Theory of mind. Uncanny valley. Pixar. Luxo Jr. Media. Entertainment. Character identification. Inanimate objects. Appraisal theory. Motion. Affective. Mirror neurons. Folk psychology. Limbs. Qualitative study.