Mistaking minds and machines: How speech affects dehumanization and anthropomorphism

J Exp Psychol Gen. 2016 Nov;145(11):1427-1437. doi: 10.1037/xge0000214. Epub 2016 Aug 11.


Treating a human mind like a machine is an essential component of dehumanization, whereas attributing a humanlike mind to a machine is an essential component of anthropomorphism. Here we tested how a cue closely connected to a person's actual mental experience-a humanlike voice-affects the likelihood of mistaking a person for a machine, or a machine for a person. We predicted that paralinguistic cues in speech are particularly likely to convey the presence of a humanlike mind, such that removing voice from communication (leaving only text) would increase the likelihood of mistaking the text's creator for a machine. Conversely, adding voice to a computer-generated script (resulting in speech) would increase the likelihood of mistaking the text's creator for a human. Four experiments confirmed these hypotheses, demonstrating that people are more likely to infer a human (vs. computer) creator when they hear a voice expressing thoughts than when they read the same thoughts in text. Adding human visual cues to text (i.e., seeing a person perform a script in a subtitled video clip), did not increase the likelihood of inferring a human creator compared with only reading text, suggesting that defining features of personhood may be conveyed more clearly in speech (Experiments 1 and 2). Removing the naturalistic paralinguistic cues that convey humanlike capacity for thinking and feeling, such as varied pace and intonation, eliminates the humanizing effect of speech (Experiment 4). We discuss implications for dehumanizing others through text-based media, and for anthropomorphizing machines through speech-based media. (PsycINFO Database Record

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Automation*
  • Communication
  • Cues
  • Dehumanization*
  • Discrimination, Psychological
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Judgment
  • Male
  • Man-Machine Systems*
  • Reading
  • Speech Perception
  • Speech*
  • Thinking
  • Visual Perception
  • Voice*