Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
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. Our findings suggest that the amygdala contributes to how we anthropomorphize stimuli that are not explicitly social.