Friday, April 27, 2012

Object Thinking - Anthropomorphism

This follows on from Object Thinking - Objects have actions

Anthropomorphism is essential for object thinking to take place. Anthropomorphism is when a person attributes human mental states to other, non-human, things. Attributing human-like mental states to objects allows a programmer to treat the object as an agent, as opposed to something inanimate, and so bestow upon it appropriate behaviours allowing it to act in an appropriate manner within the application, interacting with other object. The amount of responsibility that you want an object to have will reflect how much you anthropomorphise it. It is important not to give an object too much responsibility, as explained by the Single Responsibility Principle.

That Anthropomorphism occurs is so obvious it doesn't need investigating! So obviously it has been researched by a huge number of people. The paper being looked at here, Making Sense by Making Sentient: Effectance Motivation Increases Anthropomorphism, by Waytz et al. in 2010[1], is one that attempts to explain why and how people anthropomorphise.

Their hypothesis is that one of the reasons people anthropomorphise objects because they want to increase their effectance motivation. This is the motivation to be an effective social agent. The researchers conduct six experiments based on this hypothesis.

The first experiment asked participants to rate their computers. Half of the participants (A) were asked to rate how much they felt their computer has a mind of its own. The other half (B) were asked to rate how much their computer appeared to behave as if it has its own beliefs and desires. Both sets were asked how often they had problems with the computer or its software. The hypothesis for the study is that the more problems people have with their computer, the more they will anthropomorphise it.

Results showed that, in accordance with the hypothesis, the more often participants in group A had problems with their computers, the more they thought their computers had minds of their own and that the more often participants in group B had problems, the more likely they were to believe their computers had beliefs and desires.

The second experiment asked participants to judge the agency of gadgets that had been assigned one of two descriptions about it. The gadget's description either made it seems as though what it did was within or outside the control of the user, but always described the same functionality. There were two groups of participants. They all saw the same set of gadgets, there were alternating sets of descriptions. After reading the descriptions, the participants were asked to rate how much control they thought they had over the gadgets, and then to assess how much the gadget had a “mind of its own”, “intentions, free will and consciousness” and appeared to experience emotions, in the same way they had to rate how much control they thought they had over the gadget.

In alignment with their hypothesis, the participants rated the gadgets with low controllability to be more anthropomorphic than those that were perceived to be more easy to control.

The third experiment was essentially replica of the second, but the participants were subject to an fMRI scan while rating the gadgets. This was conducted because the researched reasoned that people could be using mind as a metaphor for the behaviour they were seeing, rather than actually attributing minds to the objects. By determining the region of the brain in use when anthropomorphising takes place they could rule out certain modes of thinking and give weight to a possible seat for anthropomorphism in the brain. The researchers propose, through reference to previous studies, that the superior temporal sulcus (STS) is involved in social or biological motion, the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) is in use when considering people vs objects and considering the mind of another, and the amygdala, inferior parietal lobe and intraparietal sulcus are active when evaluating unpredictability. They therefore hypothesise that the MPFC will increase in activity when anthropomorphising.

The results of the experiment showed the ventral MPFC (vMPFC) to be the most active region, whereas the STS was not active.

The results also showed activation in a network of areas related to mentalising, which strongly resembles a circuit corresponding to processing of self-projection, mentalising and general social cognition, which is what would be expected for anthropomorphism.

This implies that unpredictable gadgets are perceived to have a mind, in an actual rather than metaphorical sense.

The results are inconsistent with the alternative hypotheses: attribution of mind to objects only related to social or biological motion analogies; that processing unpredictability is the cause of the activation; or that the activation is influenced by animism.

The fourth experiment asked participants to evaluate a robot that would answer yes/no questions the participants asked. There were three conditions that the participants were randomly assigned to: the condition where the robot answered yes as often as no, the condition where the robot answered no more often, and the condition where the robot answered yes more often. The second two conditions were the predictable conditions.

After asking the questions and receiving answers, the participants were asked to rate the robot on predictability, then on how much they thought it had free will, its own intentions, consciousness, desires, beliefs and the ability to express emotions. The participants were also asked to rate the robot on attractiveness, efficiency and strength. The ratings were done on a five point scale from “Not at all” (1) to “Extremely” (5).

Results from the experiment showed that participants in the predictable groups found the robot to be predictable, more-so than those in the unpredictable group. Also predicable-no was felt to be more predictable than predictable-yes.

Importantly anthropomorphism was found to be more prevalent where the robot would found to be less predictable.

The only significant difference between the conditions and the non-anthropomorphic evaluation was that predictable-yes participants found the robot to be more attractive than predictable-no. The researchers do not discuss this finding. There was no significant interaction found between liking the robot and anthropomorphising it.

These results show people anthropomorphise unpredictable agents, and present a causal link between the two. This is important as the previous three experiments could be interpreted as a simple association rather than a clear cognitive process.

Experiment five gave some participants motivation to predict the behaviour of a robot, and the others were asked to predict the behaviour with out being motivated. The hypothesis was that increasing motivation should increase motivation to understand, explain and predict an agent.

Participants evaluated a robot on a computer screen. They watched videos of the robot perform but not complete a task. Participants saw options of what the robot would do next and were asked to pick what they thought would happen. Participants in the motivation condition were offered $1 per correct answer. All participants then evaluated the robot's anthropomorphism. Finally the participants were shown the outcome, and compensated where necessary.

Results showed that motivated participants rated the robot as more anthropomorphic.

This shows that effectance motivation is increased when a person is motivated to understand an agent, and not simply controlled by the predictability of the agent.

The sixth and final experiment was predicated by the hypothesis that anthropomorphism should satisfy effectance motivation, i.e. anthropomorphism should satiate the motivation for mastery and make agents seem more predictable and understandable.

Participants evaluated four stimuli (dog, robot, alarm clock, shapes). Half of the participants were told to evaluate the dog and alarm clock objectively, and the robot and shapes in an anthropomorphic fashion, the other half were given the opposite instructions.

Each participant was shown a video of each stimulus three times. After the third time the participant was asked to evaluate the stimulus on two scales: the extent to which they understood the stimulus and the extent to which they felt capable of predicting its future behaviour.

The results showed that the dog and shapes were found to be easier to understand than the robot or alarm clock.

Importantly, participants perceived greater understanding and predictability of agents they had been told to anthropomorphise. The effect did not seem to depend on the group the participant was in.

This study implies that anthropomorphism satisfies effectance motivation.

It is clear from this paper that anthropomorphism is a natural part of human cognition, that is used to make behaviour of objects in the world around us seem more predictable and thus give us a better sense of control. It also shows that there is a neurological basis for this behaviour; the brain is set-up to anthropomorphise the world around us.

[1] Making Sense by Making Sentient: Effectance Motivation Increases Anthropomorphism. A. Waytz, C. K. Morewedge, N. Epley, G. Monteleone, J. H. Gao, J. T. Cacioppo. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2010, Vol.99, No.3, 410–435