A Caltech Library Service

Anthropomorphizing without Social Cues Requires the Basolateral Amygdala

Waytz, Adam and Cacioppo, John T. and Hurlemann, René and Castelli, Fulvia and Adolphs, Ralph and Paul, Lynn K. (2019) Anthropomorphizing without Social Cues Requires the Basolateral Amygdala. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 31 (4). pp. 482-496. ISSN 0898-929X. doi:10.1162/jocn_a_01365.

PDF - Published Version
See Usage Policy.


Use this Persistent URL to link to this item:


Anthropomorphism, the attribution of distinctively human mental characteristics to nonhuman animals and objects, illustrates the human propensity for extending social cognition beyond typical social targets. Yet, its processing components remain challenging to study because they are typically all engaged simultaneously. Across one pilot study and one focal study, we tested three rare people with basolateral amygdala lesions to dissociate two specific processing components: those triggered by attention to social cues (e.g., seeing a face) and those triggered by endogenous semantic knowledge (e.g., imbuing a machine with animacy). A pilot study demonstrated that, like neurologically intact control group participants, the three amygdala-damaged participants produced anthropomorphic descriptions for highly socially salient stimuli but not for stimuli lacking clear social cues. A focal study found that the three amygdala participants could anthropomorphize animate and living entities normally, but anthropomorphized inanimate stimuli less than control participants. Yet, amygdala participants could anthropomorphize across all stimuli when explicitly questioned, demonstrating that the ability to make social attributions as such is intact. Our findings suggest that the amygdala contributes to how we anthropomorphize stimuli that are not explicitly social.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription
Waytz, Adam0000-0001-9706-6062
Cacioppo, John T.0000-0002-0049-3509
Hurlemann, René0000-0003-2628-565X
Adolphs, Ralph0000-0002-8053-9692
Paul, Lynn K.0000-0002-3128-8313
Additional Information:© 2018 Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Posted Online December 18, 2018. We dedicate this article to the memory of John Cacioppo, who passed away while the article was being finalized and whose seminal work in social neuroscience guided the questions and approaches we present here. German comparison participants were recruited by Tania Singer. R. H. was supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG) BE 5465/2-1 and HU 1302/4-1. R. A. and L. K. P. were supported by a Conte Center from NIMH (P50MH094258).
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)BE 5465/2-1
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)HU 1302/4-1
Issue or Number:4
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20190102-074401938
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Anthropomorphizing without Social Cues Requires the Basolateral Amygdala. Adam Waytz, John T. Cacioppo, Rene Hurlemann, Fulvia Castelli, Ralph Adolphs, and Lynn K. Paul. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 2019 Vol. 31, 482-496
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:91963
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:02 Jan 2019 16:45
Last Modified:16 Nov 2021 03:45

Repository Staff Only: item control page