2021

Anthropic Thinking in Biology

Presenter: Yael Sefchovich

Research Category: Social Sciences, Business, and Law
College: College of Science
Major(s): Psychology
Graduation Date: 2024
Additional Authors: Gi Yi Ho, Tessa Rigby, Georgia Xenakis, Emma Pitt, Catie Nielson

People use intuitive thinking to reason about biological phenomena. Anthropic thinking influences how we view biological phenomena through a human lens. However, it can lead to misconceptions. Our goal is to measure the impact of biology expertise on anthropic usage across genetics, evolution, and plant growth. 

188 undergraduate students responded to open-ended prompts about different broad themes in biology. They were sub-coded into five different categories: Human Example (using humans to illustrate a response), Human Exceptionalism (implying human superiority), Human Exclusivity (referring only to humans),  Human Analogy (comparing to human experiences or artifacts), and Personification (attributing human characteristics or behaviors to non-human species and objects). 

Anthropic language varied; human examples and personification were more common (72.7% and 62.7%,  respectively), compared to human exceptionalism and exclusivity (2.08% and 1.69%, respectively). Participants who used human examples were more likely to agree with the anthropic misconceptions about genetics (M=1.78, SD = 1.30) than participants who did not (M = 1.22 , SD= 0.93 ), t(69.23) = -2.98, p = .003. Participants who used human examples were more likely to agree with the anthropic misconceptions about plant growth (M= 4.06, SD = 1.37) than participants who did not (M = 5.19, SD = 1.59), t(47.27) = -3.11, p = .003. 

Our data indicate that different kinds of anthropic thinking have varying effects on people’s understanding of biology. Human examples seem to be detrimental, while personification is less so. These findings can aid in formulating educational curriculums.

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