Big Word: Anthropomorphism

December 4, 2007 | Larry Boles

Are owls really wise? Are raccoons nature’s bandits? Could a bear love some bears while disliking others?


These questions reflect the tendency of humans to attribute familiar emotions and intentions to animal species. The behavior, also known as anthropomorphism, springs from our desire to know the mental status of those around us. While this capacity usually serves us well at parties, scientists try to avoid anthropomorphizing about animal behavior. We can never really know if an animal is “sad” or “happy” but biologists can monitor animals for stress by assessing their food and water intake, noting their interactions with other animals, and recording their behavior over long periods.
Animal keepers at the Museum of Life and Science use these techniques and others to insure our animals live a “happy” life.

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