Gadgets Are Not People

By Hudson Hongo on at

If you’re currently single, falling in love with an inanimate object might seem like the obvious solution. Whether its 15 inflatable pool toys or just a potentially explosive phone, dating the non-living instantly eliminates some of the trickiest relationships issues. Worried they might not like you back? Not a problem. Afraid they’ll leave you? Not gonna happen.

There is, however, one major drawback: Gadgets, even super creepy ones that move around or hug you, are not people. At least, that’s what the researchers at McGill University would have you believe.

In a new study published by Psychological Science, the team replicated an experiment that used descriptions of four technological
gadgets to see how loneliness influences our tendency to anthropomorphise objects. Unsurprisingly, people who felt socially disconnected or insecure were more likely to give devices like “Pillow Mate” (a body-shaped pillow that can be programmed to ‘‘hug’’) humanlike characteristics. From Vocativ:

Then the participants were asked to read descriptions of four different gadgets, including Clocky, an alarm clock with wheels that rolls away from you when it goes off. They then answered a series of questions meant to measure their tendency to anthropomorphise the devices — for example, by saying that Clocky had “a mind of its own” or “free will.”

The researchers found a strong association between loneliness and a tendency to humanise gadgets. That anthropomorphising link was even stronger when it came to people with attachment anxiety, which is, as the study puts it, “a intense desire for and preoccupation with closeness, fear of abandonment, and hypervigilance to social cues.” And those who were reminded about a close relationship before evaluating the gadgets were less likely to humanise them.

“Although anthropomorphism is one of the more creative ways people try to meet belonging needs, it is nevertheless difficult to have a relationship with an inanimate object,” caution the researchers. “Reliance on such a compensatory strategy could permit disconnected people to delay the riskier—but potentially more rewarding—steps of forging new relationships with real people.”

That’s what they would say, of course, but maybe they just haven’t met the right phone.