Anthropomorphization vs. Dehumanization

We’ve battled these extremes for all of humanity. When will we find a balance?

Katrina Paulson


Photo by Bekah Russom on Unsplash

If you haven’t noticed, we exist in a shared reality constructed almost entirely of opposites — black/white, up/down, love/hate — which, to me, means that life is a game of finding balance. Not just within the physics of this world, but as humans, we have an entire universe of contradictions inside ourselves.

As an individual, you find a balance between your head and your heart, but it doesn’t stop there — as a species, we’re undeniably full of polarities. For instance, we’re capable of tremendous compassion and kindness while just as quickly becoming vicious and devoid of empathy.

Similarly, we long for connection — even to the point of personifying non-human entities and objects — while simultaneously defaulting to violence and hatred toward anything or anyone different from ourselves. It’s this set of opposites I find myself increasingly boggled by. Will we ever find a balance?


Assigning human-like traits or forming bonds with objects is typically associated with childhood. Just look at cartoons full of non-human characters given human attributes or elements. Except this characteristic isn’t something we grow out of — adults anthropomorphize too. Over the years, researchers seem to agree that we begin doing it in infanthood and continue throughout our lives.

Humans of all ages are talented at assigning human traits and personhood to, well, everything. I like to say we can form an emotional attachment to nouns — weather events, inanimate objects, animals, plants, locations, the list never ends. We even anthropomorphize imaginary Beings such as gods and goddesses or fictional characters.

A prime example of anthropization is in the movie Cast Away from 2000, starring Tom Hanks. The premise consists of Hanks stranded on an island, where he forms an emotional attachment to a volleyball he calls Wilson — since the brand’s name was on the ball, they even sell them.

It sounds nuts, but viewers, including myself, became increasingly emotionally invested in Wilson.

But why do we do it?



Katrina Paulson

I wonder about humanity, questions with no answers, and new discoveries. Then I write about them here and on substack!