Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics, emotions and behaviour to animals or other non-human things.
Anthropomorphism is a term that contains the words ‘anthropo’ and ‘morph’. 'Anthropo' is derived from the word “anthropos” in ancient Greek, which means ‘human being’. It is a common spelling in many words, such in anthropology and anthropocentrism. 'Morph' comes from the verb ‘morfein’ in ancient Greek and means 'to shape' or 'to form'. Anthropomorphism therefore means that something takes a human form. It can be about animals, plants, stones, or objects, which embrace human properties. Anthropomorphism is known from the study of religion. In this context, it is associated with gods and spirits that are portrayed with human forms. It is also used to characterize many different types of literature in which especially animals and other phenomena are given human characteristics. This applies, for example, to animals in fables, legends, and fairy tales, as well as animals in picture books and story books for children and novels for adults (Arienti, 2021). It also applies to other forms of cultural expression such as cartoons, animated films, and computer games. In literature, anthropomorphism is a collective category for animating, which gives human characteristics to animals, and for personifying, which gives abstract phenomena human characteristics (Murfin & Ray, 2003, p. 339).
It stands to reason that children are influenced by the massive number of animals with human characteristics they encounter in children's culture. In addition, anthropomorphism seems to harmonize particularly well with children's own way of thinking. Children's experiences often revolve around family life in the first years, and they would like to transfer the patterns they know from their own experiences to what they observe in nature. In doing so, they can draw analogies between roles in the family and observations of animals where such analogies fit well. Expressions such as the mother cat and the kittens, or the baby elephant in a herd epitomize this phenomenon. Accordingly, family relationships can be used to express relationships between animals of different sizes in expressions such as the daddy worm and the baby worm, or the baby fish. One of the overarching goals of kindergartens and schools is to make children learn to respect nature and to treat animals well. Indeed, the idea is that children are supposed to transform love of nature into a desire to live and use nature in a sustainable way. To do so, anthropomorphism can be necessary because children must develop empathy so that they see phenomena in nature as equal to themselves. In the natural sciences, one has long been concerned with the fact that when children use anthropomorphism, the adults should not give them such explanatory models (e.g. by asking the child if he thinks the ants are going home to bed or by implying that the small crabs in the bucket are having a good time together). There are several reasons for this scepticism. One is that an exaggerated use of anthropomorphism can hinder the learning of natural sciences that many children are interested in. Another reason is that animals can be treated poorly because they do not have the human characteristics which is attributed to them. The grown up can instead provide alternative models of explanation and help the children understand these phenomena correctly. For example, they can mention the correct names for the natural phenomena and try to describe the animals' behaviour in the most correct way possible. In this lies a desire to avoid anthropocentrism, namely that one does not see nature on its own terms, but as something that humans have the right to control and use.