When your car breaks down, do you think of it as being out to get you? When you’re eating Haagen-Dazs for dinner, does your oven seem to glower at you disapprovingly? When you get sick, do you imagine your immune system in hand-to-hand combat with a marauding army?
Social psychologists are interested in our tendency to anthropomorphize inanimate objects. Certainly advertisers are interested in that inclination, since it’s one of their favorite gambits. A paper recently published in the Journal of Consumer Research leads off with a description of this very clever IKEA commercial, with its tragic reading lamp, replaced and relegated to the trash.
The paper is titled “Gaming with Mr. Slot or Gaming the Slot Machine? Power, Anthropomorphism, and Risk Perception” and it examines the role of feelings of personal power in anthropomorphizing. The researchers hypothesized that people’s sense of personal power affects how much risk they will perceive with anthropomorphized vs. non-anthropomorphized slot machines, and, in a second study, with skin cancer. They found that: