Anthropomorphism occurs when writers attribute human actions to inanimate sources or to nonhuman animals, as demonstrated in the following table.

Correct usage Incorrect usage Rationale
Rat pairs lived in the same enclosure. Rat couples lived in the same enclosure. “Rat couples” makes a misleading comparison between pairs of rats and human romantic couples.
The theory addresses The theory concludes A theory might address, indicate, or present, but researchers (not theories) conclude.

Anthropomorphism is covered in Section 4.11 of the APA Publication Manual, Seventh Edition

Determining what constitutes anthropomorphism can be challenging, and even distinguished scholars may disagree. If a construction is in widespread use and its meaning is unambiguous, it is usually not anthropomorphic. For example, when describing what is contained in sections of an APA Style paper, the following constructions are all acceptable:

In this section, I address

This section addresses

This paper focuses on

In this paper, I focus on

The results suggest

The study found

The data provide evidence that

If you are unsure whether a construction constitutes anthropomorphism, try rewording the sentence or choosing a different verb. Also consult published works to become familiar with acceptable phrasings.

Date created: September 2019