Is this car looking at you? How anthropomorphism predicts fusiform face area activation when seeing cars

PLoS One. 2014 Dec 17;9(12):e113885. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0113885. eCollection 2014.

Abstract

Anthropomorphism encompasses the attribution of human characteristics to non-living objects. In particular the human tendency to see faces in cars has long been noticed, yet its neural correlates are unknown. We set out to investigate whether the fusiform face area (FFA) is associated with seeing human features in car fronts, or whether, the higher-level theory of mind network (ToM), namely temporoparietal junction (TPJ) and medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) show a link to anthropomorphism. Twenty participants underwent fMRI scanning during a passive car-front viewing task. We extracted brain activity from FFA, TPJ and MPFC. After the fMRI session participants were asked to spontaneously list adjectives that characterize each car front. Five raters judged the degree to which each adjective can be applied as a characteristic of human beings. By means of linear mixed models we found that the implicit tendency to anthropomorphize individual car fronts predicts FFA, but not TPJ or MPFC activity. The results point to an important role of FFA in the phenomenon of ascribing human attributes to non-living objects. Interestingly, brain regions that have been associated with thinking about beliefs and mental states of others (TPJ, MPFC) do not seem to be related to anthropomorphism of car fronts.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Automobiles*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Face*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Theory of Mind / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult

Grant support

The authors have no funding or support to report.