New research at the University of Chicago finds evidence for a clever way that people manage to alleviate the pain of loneliness: They create people in their surroundings to keep them company.
Biological reproduction is not a very efficient way to alleviate ones loneliness, but you can make up people when youre motivated to do so, said Nicholas Epley, Assistant Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Chicagos Graduate School of Business. When people lack a sense of connection with other people, they are more likely to see their pets, gadgets or gods as human-like.
Social scientists call this tendency anthropomorphism. As a research topic, the phenomenon carries important therapeutic and societal implications, Epley said. He and his co-authors will publish their findings on anthropomorphism in the February issue of the journal Psychological Science. Also contributing to the research were Scott Akalis of Harvard University and the University of Chicagos Adam Waytz and John Cacioppo.
The behaviors they describe in the paper are not limited to the lonely. Nevertheless, they are well-known to casual observers, from the stereotype of the woman who lives alone surrounded by her menagerie of cats, to the movie portrayal of a tropical island castaway.
In the movie Castaway, Tom Hanks was isolated on an island and found the social desolation to be one of the most daunting challenges with which he had to deal, said Cacioppo, the Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology at the University of Chicago.
He did so, in part, by anthropomorphizing a volleyball, Wilson, who became his friend and confidant while he was on the island. Although fictional, Castaway depicts a deep truth about the irrepressibly social nature of Homo sapiens, Cacioppo said.
The researchers designed three experiments to test their expectations that lonely people are more likely to make up for their lac
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University of Chicago