Anthropomorphism in Children’s Media

Animals encompass a large portion of our everyday lives. They are our companions, our fears, our sustenance, our transportation, our entertainment and even our representatives for countries and sports teams. However, more and more we see animals disappearing from our physical realities only to become more visible within our popular culture, and not always in their ‘true form’. As Berger states, ‘widespread commercial diffusion of animal imagery all began as animals started to be withdrawn from daily life’ (Berger, p. 26, 2009)

“For most people, animals are symbolic: their significance lies not in what they are, but in what we think they are. We ascribe meanings and values to their existence and behaviors in ways that usually have little to do with their biological and social realities” – Bruce Bagemihl (Marshal et. al, 2012)

Anthropomorphism is the common theme used within media that encourages this ‘disappearance’ of animals from our everyday lives and is defined as the attribution of human characteristics and traits to an animal or other non-human objects (Burke, et. al, 2014).

Think about some of your favourite movies, television shows and literature and the way animals are represented. Especially those targeting children. Using anthropomorphic to humanise animals in children’s media is thought to be a way of helping children understand the natural world (Goldman, 2014), however this statement has caused continual conflict between researchers who dispute whether anthropomorphism helps or hinders children’s knowledge of real animals.

So let’s look at some examples of anthropomorphism in practice:

Movie: ‘Finding Nemo’ (2003)

  • This popular Pixar animation illustrates anthropomorphic characters living in their natural habit, an environment that you would expect a particular animal to live in in

    reality. In this instance, fish living in the ocean.

  • Through their animation, these characters are morphed to better reflect humans in the way that their facial features, such as eyes and mouth, are distinctly similar to that of humans. They are also given personalities that allow them to convey emotion in the way humans do.
  • Therefore, while their physical features and environment are only marginally adjusted, the biggest difference is the ‘attribution of human abilities such as talking, thinking, dreaming and creating their own philosophies’  (Jardim, 2013)

TV Show: ‘Arthur’ (1996)

  • This animated American children’s series illustrates anthropomorphism in a different way to ‘Finding Nemo’ in that these animals live in environments that they don’t belong to.

  • The animals presented in this show including: aardvarks, rabbits, monkeys, moose etc, are depicted living in furnished brick houses, bipedal, wearing clothes, going to school/work, eating human food, and experiencing human relationships and activities.
  • They are living in a world were humans are seemingly non-existent and, instead, these animals are living their lives in replacement of humans, modelling our own societies (Jardim, 2013).

Literature: ‘Winnie the Pooh’ (1926)

  • Before it’s success as a television show, Winne the Pooh originated as a children’s

    novel. It illustrates a fusion of both examples of anthropomorphism that was previously stated.

  • The animals featured, such as: bears, piglets, donkeys, rabbits and kangaroos are living in outside environments, giving the impression that they are in their natural environments. However, they live in a place called ‘Hundred-Acre-Wood’, in tree-houses that are furnished on the inside. This is definitely not the natural habitat for piglets or donkeys, and even bears and kangaroos don’t live inside trees.
  • Some of these animals are also partially clothed, wearing t-shirts and ribbons suggesting small traces of human characteristics.

Some criticisms of anthropomorphism suggest that its existence decreases factual learning about real animals, causing children to incorrectly associate them with human properties during their vulnerable development stage (Melson, 2001). Similar views are expressed by Goldman through the research of Patricia Ganea and Simon Marshall. I can understand this point of view to a degree as I spent most of my childhood believing that bears exclusively ate honey right out of the jar thanks to Winnie the Pooh. However, the work of (Geerdts, et. al, 2015)  believes that by using anthropomorphism as a novelty, it can ‘support children’s learning about animals and their biological processes’ and in fact doesn’t impede factual recall at all. Through their random selection of pre-school aged children, they tested story recall, biological generalisations and  animal/human property attributions within anthropomorphic media with the results showing little to no effect on a child’s perception on animals. Concluding that anthropomorphism ‘doesn’t lead children to hold unrealistic beliefs about the the psychological properties of real animals’ (Geerdts, et. al, 2015).

Despite these conflicting views on how anthropomorphism impacts the child mind, it is still a crucial factor affecting the representation of animals within the media, promoting humans to view animals through their own contrived lenses.

Berger, J 2009, ‘Why Look at Animals’, About Looking, Penguin, p. 26, viewed: March 31st 2016, <;
Burke, C. L, Copenhaver, J. G & Captenter M 2004, ‘Animals as People in Children’s Literature’, ProQuest,, viewed: March 31st 2016, <;

Geerdts, M, Van de Walle, G & LoBlue, V 2015, ‘Learning About Real Animals From Anthropomorphic Media’, Imagination, Cognition and Personality: Consciousness in Theory, Research, and Clinical Practice , Sage Publications,, viewed: March 31st 2016, <>Goldman, J. G 2014, ‘When Animals Act Like People in Stories, Kids Can’t Learn’, Scientific American,, viewed: April 1st 2016, <;

Jardim, T 2013, ‘Animals as character: Anthropomorphism as personality in animation‘,, viewed: March 31st 2016, <;

Marshall, S & Schneider, B 2012, ‘Animal Sapiens: The Consequences of Anthropomorphism in Popular Media’, Montana,, viewed: March 30th 2016, <;

Melson, G. F, 2001, ‘Why the wild things are: Animals in the lives of children’, Cambridge, MA, US, Harvard University Press


Why So Full of Your Self-ie?

Let it be known that not only is ‘selfie’ an official word in the dictionary, but in 2013, it was dubbed word of the year by the Oxford dictionary (BBC, 2013). Such a title can only be a true testament to how selfies have become an integral part of our everyday lives. If that’s not enough validation for you, why don’t you stroll over to Instagram yourself and look at the 272 million hashtags that fall under the same category. Selfies have become a social phenomenon, being utilised not just by the everyday person but celebrities, politicians and even astronauts. However, there are concerns that the selfie movement has also arisen a narcissistic movement amongst those who participate.

It seems that those who protest the idea, argue that the selfie is merely a means for insecure, self-centered and shallow women to seek the attention and gratification of others. Some critics believe “We are living in a culture of people who are very much involved in themselves… When they turn that camera on themselves they believe they are so important and so interesting…” (Farah, 2014). However what they are lacking to observe are the undeniable positives t0 the selfie revolution.

Selfies shouldn’t purely be seen as stimulants for the vain and shallow, they should be considered as powerful tools of creative expression and communication. Jerry Saltz goes as far as to even say that selfies should be considered as a new genre of art, ‘a type of self-portraiture formally distinct from all others in history…something like art.’ (Saltz, 2014) And like art, everyone perceives something different from it.

I think it is important to note that selfies can be used as a tool to control an individual’s image and the only way that it could possibly be narcissistic is because we don’t always document the mundane moments of our lives such as the 5 hour Netflix bender we’re currently in the middle of.
I believe selfies are a powerful way for someone to shape their identity online, giving them the right to decide exactly how they want to be viewed by the world.  Selfies allow people the option to completely re-define how they portray themselves in a technique Nicola Evans calls ‘seizing the gaze’ (Evans, 2016). For years, women in particular, have been the objects of this gaze, but now they can chose whether they want to post that perfect photo that took lots of preparation or that cheeky double chin with a mate for a laugh.

This kind of control generates a power that has the ability to not only empower ones self, but greatly influence others. Senft, defines empowerment as ‘the capacity to make meaningful choices, act on those choices when interacting with others and…draw on resources that allow us to enforce those actions’ and I believe that is exactly what happened in the the 2014 #nomakeupselfie campaign. (Tiidenberg & Cruz, p. 83, 2015)

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Beyonce: Source

#nomakeupselfie Campaign

This online movement aimed to help raise awareness for breast cancer research in the UK by taking a selfie of yourself without makeup accompanied with the hashtag #nomakeupselfie, making a donation and tagging several friends to do the same. In a time where selfies were on the incline and narcissistic claims were surfacing, the #nomakeupselfie campaign aimed to challenge the stereotypical image of females wearing makeup in order to encourage them to feel comfortable in their own skin.

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Gwyneth Paltrow: Source


The campaign was said to have been sparked by Fiona Cunningham who was the first to post her #nomakeupselfie in support of Kim Novak who was ridiculed for her appearance at the Oscars the month prior (Duffin, 2014). While you may be wondering what on earth that has  do with cancer, the answer is nothing, but if this trend had the ability to encourage women to break away from their comfort-zones and challenge social expectations while raising 8 million pounds for breast cancer at the same time, how could that possibly be a negative?

Overall, in a world where there are regulations, rules and standards all around us, it can be liberating to have the freedom be able to control our image, our identity and how we wish to portray ourselves to the big bad world, so no more hesitating over the shutter button!

BBC, 2013, ”Selfie’ named by Oxford Dictionaries as word of 2013′, BBC News,, viewed 12th March 2016, <;

Duffin, C 2014, ‘#nomakeupselfie campaign started by teenage mum from Stoke raises 8 million for Cancer Research’, The Telegraph,, viewed 14th March 2016, <;

Evans, N 2016, ‘Week 2: Looking at Ourselves’, BCM232, Lecture notes, University of Wollongong, Australia.

Farrah, J 2014, ‘The Selfie Craze: Are We Becoming a Narcissistic Nation?’, The Huffington Post Australia,, viewed 13th March 2016, <;

Saltz, J 2014, ‘Art at Arm’s Length: A History of the Selfie’, New York Magazine,, viewed 12th March 2016, <;

Tiidenberg, K, Cruz, E. D 2015, ‘Selfies, Image and Re-making of the Body’, Body & Society, Sage Publications, Vol. 21, No. 4, pp. 77-102,, viewed March 13th 2016, <;