Metropolitan Digital

  • Written by Michaela Porubanova, Associate Professor of Cognitive Psychology, Farmingdale State College

President Donald Trump has called the coronavirus an “invisible enemy[1]” that’s “brilliant[2]” and “tough and smart,” adding that we are “tougher and smarter[3].”

CNN host Chris Cuomo, recovering from the virus, attributed malicious intent to it, saying it “wants us to lay down[4].” He warned his audience not to cooperate.

Other people called the coronavirus “sneaky[5],” “tricky[6],” “merciless[7],” “cruel[8]” and “vicious[9].” One reporter wrote that in a nursing home, the virus “found[10]” the people who were most frail.

Speaking of the coronavirus as if it were a person, then, is common. But why do we all do it, despite knowing that the virus is just a tiny bundle of inanimate genetic material?

As cognitive[11] scientists[12] who study the human mind we suggest that this tendency to see human features everywhere[13] is an innate human characteristic, one that automatically alerts you to signs of other people – and helps you make sense of a confusing world.

It’s human nature to see human features everywhere

Attributing human characteristics to nonhuman things and events is called anthropomorphism or personification. Philosophers and psychologists suggest that it is a human universal, found among all of us, regardless of culture or upbringing. For instance, philosopher David Hume[14] wrote in the 18th century that “We find human faces in the moon, armies in the clouds; and… ascribe malice or good-will to every thing, that hurts or pleases us[15].” Most recently, people find “enemies” in viruses.

They do so, Hume wrote, because the world is complex and unpredictable, and often threatens you with unexpected calamities such as earthquakes, floods and plagues. In order to predict and control these dangers, he said, people want to understand their causes, but often cannot. Baffled, they resort to the most familiar explanations, those based on their own experiences and those of other people.

Humanizing the coronavirus as an invisible enemy is human nature Anthropomorphizing viruses is common. xkcd, CC BY-NC[16][17]

This habit often results in the mistake of thinking you see persons, or features of persons, where they don’t exist, as with the new virus. But having a human-like model–indeed, having any model–to apply to such a mysterious, invisible and dangerous entity as the coronavirus provides some measure of apparent control, and thus comfort.

And although people may not consciously believe that the coronavirus is like a person, their language and behavior suggest that they do so unconsciously.

Humanizing the coronavirus as an invisible enemy is human nature A detail from ‘Winter’ by Giuseppe Arcimboldo. Humans intuitively and automatically attribute and see human features where there are none. Giuseppe Arcimboldo, CC BY[18][19]

The assumption that persons and features of persons may be present is spontaneous and irrepressible. For example, 16th-century Italian artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo painted a series of faces[20] composed of various objects. In one work, “Winter,” you can’t help seeing a face in a tree stump, perhaps reflecting a face that the artist had imagined in a real stump. It is virtually impossible not to see the face emerging from Arcimboldo’s assemblage of objects.

The upside of anthropomorphizing

Interpreting many phenomena as human in origin is the safest bet, while dismissing them as irrelevant may be dangerous if you’re wrong.

When you find possible traces of humans – faces in stumps, voices in the wind or footsteps in a house’s creaks – it opens a wide repertoire of important possibilities. Is it an enemy who might harm me? A friend who will comfort me?

Thus, a high sensitivity to human-like features and a low threshold for deciding they are present have evolutionary advantages. Their disadvantage is that you’re often mistaken, when no human feature is really there. But most such mistakes are less consequential than missing someone you need to see, whether friend or foe.

Humans, then, are a special stimulus for us, and cognitive neuroscience provides further evidence of it. For example, infants are born ready to recognize a face[21] – or anything resembling one[22] – and by a few months of age, infants prefer a block that “helps”[23] another block up a slope to one that “hinders” it. So babies are born ready to see shapes as human anatomy, and quickly see even inanimate objects as having social relationships. People never outgrow this tendency, and throughout life see aspects of ourselves in cliff “faces,” river “mouths” and mountain “majesties,” and purpose and meaning everywhere.

Humanizing the coronavirus as an invisible enemy is human nature Nietzsche wrote of his ‘belief in intention… that every event is a deed, that every deed presupposes a doer….’ Stewart Guthrie, CC BY-ND[24]

Scanning for human features in the environment – and ending up anthropomorphizing – appears built into human beings. It is supported by what neuroscientists call the social brain, an evolved “person network[25].”

This brain network is activated by any stimulus that even suggests a person, such as a stick figure[26] or emoji[27]. For instance, part of this network, the fusiform face area, responds both to a human face [28]and to anthropomorphized car headlights[29], grill and bumper.

No wonder it’s so easy to talk about the coronavirus as human-like. Anthropomorphic narratives provide models of the virus and its behavior that feel familiar and accessible. They’re a way to grasp these unseen beings, and this grasp, illusory or not, provides a bit of the confidence and sense of control so crucial to mental well-being[30].

[You need to understand the coronavirus pandemic, and we can help. Read The Conversation’s newsletter[31].]

References

  1. ^ invisible enemy (www.politico.com)
  2. ^ brilliant (www.nytimes.com)
  3. ^ tougher and smarter (www.politico.com)
  4. ^ wants us to lay down (news.yahoo.com)
  5. ^ sneaky (www.washingtonpost.com)
  6. ^ tricky (www.aa.com.tr)
  7. ^ merciless (www.newyorker.com)
  8. ^ cruel (www.wsj.com)
  9. ^ vicious (news.yahoo.com)
  10. ^ found (wnytimes.com)
  11. ^ As cognitive (www.researchgate.net)
  12. ^ scientists (www.researchgate.net)
  13. ^ tendency to see human features everywhere (www.researchgate.net)
  14. ^ philosopher David Hume (plato.stanford.edu)
  15. ^ We find human faces in the moon, armies in the clouds; and… ascribe malice or good-will to every thing, that hurts or pleases us (books.google.com)
  16. ^ xkcd (xkcd.com)
  17. ^ CC BY-NC (creativecommons.org)
  18. ^ Giuseppe Arcimboldo (commons.wikimedia.org)
  19. ^ CC BY (creativecommons.org)
  20. ^ painted a series of faces (www.nga.gov)
  21. ^ infants are born ready to recognize a face (doi.org)
  22. ^ resembling one (doi.org)
  23. ^ prefer a block that “helps” (doi.org)
  24. ^ CC BY-ND (creativecommons.org)
  25. ^ an evolved “person network (pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  26. ^ stick figure (doi.org)
  27. ^ emoji (doi.org)
  28. ^ to a human face (doi.org)
  29. ^ anthropomorphized car headlights (doi.org)
  30. ^ mental well-being (doi.org)
  31. ^ Read The Conversation’s newsletter (theconversation.com)

Authors: Michaela Porubanova, Associate Professor of Cognitive Psychology, Farmingdale State College

Read more https://theconversation.com/humanizing-the-coronavirus-as-an-invisible-enemy-is-human-nature-138497

Metropolitan republishes selected articles from The Conversation USA with permission

Visit The Conversation to see more

Entertainment News

REBECCA “DAWGGONE" DAVIS” Weight of the World

When people hear my song “Weight of the World” for the first time, they always wonder if I somehow knew 2020 would be a year like no other in our history. Was there any conscious thought predictin...

Rebecca Davis - avatar Rebecca Davis

WENDY MOTEN I’ve Got You Covered

WENDY MOTEN may have launched her career as a pop/R&B artist and taken cool detours into jazz along the way, but her heart clearly belongs to NashvilleWendy Moten may have launched her career ...

News Company - avatar News Company

Smooth Jazz Music Legend “Dr. Dave” Releases An Homage To The Tonight Show

Writing and recording smooth jazz albums and performing live over the past 25 years, I’ve learned that people react most powerfully to a song’s rhythms. If you’ve got a great beat that they can mo...

Dr. Dave - avatar Dr. Dave

Singer/Songwriter Darrell Kelley Talks Music and Social Relevance

I feel very blessed that two of my songs, “The Coronavirus” and “Because of You,” are currently in the Top Five on the World Indie Music charts and continue to grow in influence, with over 100,0...

Darrell Kelley - avatar Darrell Kelley

How to Create a Melody on the Piano

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be able to write a song? Maybe you’ve wondered how anybody goes about writing a song? Once you understand how music works, you can use building b...

News Company - avatar News Company

MUSIC SENSATION WILLIE J RELEASES NEW SINGLE TO AID CORONA RELIEF

In the midst of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, the release of “In the Morning” on Pure Mission Entertainment – the label he partners on with Aaron Emig - follows on the heels of the global s...

Tom Estey - avatar Tom Estey

Expert Advice: Indie Record Producing and Engineering

My career as an independent artist evolved out of my career as an entrepreneur and restaurant owner. I moved to from my hometown of Boston Atlanta in 2013 and opened my soul food restaurant Soul D...

Darrell Kelley - avatar Darrell Kelley

Weight of The World

When the calm of the world is at stake, and every message of hope is crucial to our collective peace of mind and the endurance of the human spirit, it’s not only possible, but essential to present any...

Tom Estey - avatar Tom Estey

DARRELL KELLEY “The Coronavirus”

Even though I have been releasing tracks and albums since 2018, I never considered myself an artist until I started getting responses from people telling me that my songs were resonating with them. ...

DARRELL KELLEY - avatar DARRELL KELLEY

Metropolitan Business News

New Research Highlights Opportunities for Sports Betting

Revenue Stream for Sports’ Post-COVID-19 Recovery Strategies New Rochelle, NY, June 1, 2020— Twenty-four states have now legalized sports betting, with more states considering legalization la...

Len Stein - avatar Len Stein

How to make overseas transfers easier?

Mainstream banks can charge as much as $20 just to process a basic international money transfer. Fortunately, today people are not doomed to handling personal finances only through mainstream gl...

News Company - avatar News Company

The flourishing international market of fragrance and perfume

There is something special and unique about the art of fragrance. This is a big world and there are quite literally a lot of smells around at any given time. In fact, as one of the five human senses i...

News Company - avatar News Company

Impact of good marketing on sales

Sales and marketing are brothers as they go hand and in hand. The job of both of these departments is to generate revenue so that an organization can make money. A company that does not generate rev...

News Company - avatar News Company

7 effective tips for increasing sales in retail

It seems that retailers have drawn a difficult lot in the 21st century: competition from online retail is growing steadily. After all, Internet retailers can sell your products at significantly lowe...

News Company - avatar News Company

10 Reasons to Use Labels

People cannot stop biting their nails, considering the messy condition of their homes. You open your kitchen drawer to grab some utensils, but instead, you take a glance at toys lying inside that dr...

News Company - avatar News Company

Holidays

5 COOL GADGETS TO CARRY FOR A SAFE TRIP

Are you planning to go on a trip? Possibly, you do not know what things are most necessary on a trip. In this article, we will guide you through some important tips. These tips help you to...

News Company - avatar News Company

New Baggage Regulations to Help Aussie Parents Travel with Infants

Travelling around the globe has never been easy, especially when infants tag along for the trip. One of the main issues that parents often have to deal with is the need to bring extra item...

News Company - avatar News Company

Maya Beach Opens to Tourists

Despite recent reports that Southern Thailand's famous Maya Beach will close for three months this year, in fact no decision to this effect has been made by Thai authorities. Phi Phi Nati...

Maevadi Rosenfeldt - avatar Maevadi Rosenfeldt



METRO DIGITAL NEWS

Breaking News & Opinion