Anthropomorphism as a contributor to the success of human (Homo sapiens) tool use.

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Humans anthropomorphize: as a result of our evolved ultrasociality, we see the world through person-colored glasses. In this review, I suggest that an interesting proportion of the extraordinary tool-using abilities shown by humans results from our mistakenly anthropomorphizing and forming social relationships with objects and devices. I introduce the term machination to describe this error, sketch an outline of the evidence for it, tie it to intrinsic reward for social interaction, and use it to help explain overimitation—itself posited as underpinning human technological complexity—by human children and adults. I also suggest pathways for testing the concept’s presence and limits, with an explicit focus on context-specific individual and temporal variation. I posit cognitive pressure from time constraints or opaque mechanisms as a cause for machination, with rapid, subconscious attribution of goals or desires to tools reducing cognitive overload. Machination holds promise for understanding how we create and use combinatorial technology, for clarifying differences with nonhuman animal tool use, and for examining the human fascination with objects.

Ryan Watkins