Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Why do we like to put names of people to things?

Giving proper names to objects is something that belongs to the human condition. We do it, for example, to gain confidence in a machine, because we attribute human traits to a car or to feel less alone.

Almost everyone has given a person name to some inanimate object, be it a stuffed animal, a car or even a weapon. However, although there are certainly exceptions, it seems clear that not all the objects that we find in our day to day are likely to receive a proper name. So, where is the limit? and, what is more important, why do we do it?

Several studies indicate that the fact that some objects have a certain appearance or humanoid characteristics facilitates our interaction and our confidence in them, which is why we tend to attribute human qualities to the things we interact with most, something that is known as anthropomorphism.

The most common form of anthropomorphization of an object is to give it a human name, and that is why it is more usual to do it with a car, a weapon or a boat than with the top of a door. After all, we need to trust our car, but not so much in a cap.

As the linguist Ingrid Piller explained to 'Quartz', "the legendary knights trusted and defended their lives through their weapons and if you spent a lot of time on a ship a few centuries ago your life was at the mercy of the ship", with which to name it it was a way of attributing to these objects "a great interest in keeping us safe".

There are several studies conducted in recent years that have addressed the issue of trust in objects. For example, in one published in 2014 in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers discovered that people who participated in an experiment with various types of vehicles relied more on those who had more anthropomorphic characteristics.

In another more recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, researchers showed that people were more likely to believe that computer-generated text came from a human mind if it was read by a human voice.

The results of both experiments indicate that, when we observe certain anthropomorphic qualities in an object, we tend to see it as more human, which in turn makes us more prone to give them a proper name.

These two studies have been carried out by the professor at the University of Chicago, Nicholas Epley, a researcher who has stood out for his studies on anthropomorphism and who has tried to understand why we put names of inanimate objects.

In one of his books on human perception, entitled 'Mindwise', Epley points out other reasons why we could anthropomorphize an object. The most obvious is when we identify some features of the object with a human face: for example, the headlights of a car can be the eyes and the front grille can be the mouth.

Another reason to attribute human qualities an object, or more specifically to a machine, is if it performs actions unpredictably. It is assumed that machines, unlike humans, are programmed or designed to perform certain actions, and when they fail we interpret that unpredictability as something human.

For example, Epley points out in his book that the less reliable a car is, in the sense that it fails more often, people are more likely to attribute human qualities to it and, therefore, are more likely to end up giving it a name. Who has not insulted your car at some time for not starting?

But there is another more emotional reason to name objects and it is to feel accompanied. In a 2008 study published in 'Psychological Science', Epley pointed out that people who have less social relationships can try to compensate for this lack by connecting with animals and objects.

In the end, the conclusion is that to give a name to any inanimate object is something absolutely normal, because this action is deeply linked to the human condition and is part of our way of relating to the world, both with objects, as with people or animals.

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