Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics to nonhuman entities, objects, or concepts. It results in ambiguity or misleading communication and thus should be avoided in APA style. However, common usage in academic writing includes some phrases such as "the results suggest" that, although examples of anthropomorphism, are acceptable for use because they do not lead to confusion. See APA 7, Section 4.11 for more information.
Consider the following examples of anthropomorphism and possible revisions for greater clarity. Note that APA style recommends avoiding anthropomorphism but notes that "many acceptable constructions in widespread use do not constitute anthropomorphism because they do not impede understanding or mislead readers" (APA, 2020, p. 117).
Problematic usage: The study concluded that increased screen time contributed to children's inability to perform higher-order cognitive tasks.
Possible revision: The study addresses the impact of increased screen time on children's ability to perform higher-order cognitive tasks.
Possible revision: In this study, I concluded that increased screen time contributed to children's inability to perform higher-order cognitive tasks.
Problematic usage: The study explored turnover in a small grocery store.
Possible revision: In this study, I explored turnover in a small grocery store.
Problematic usage: The article discussed the prevalence of HIV in suburban communities.
Possible revision: Rogers (2010) discussed the prevalence of HIV in suburban communities.
Problematic phrasing: Leadership determined the strategic approach to implement in knowledge management.
Possible revision: Leaders in the organization determined the strategic approach to implement in knowledge management
Theories, studies, results, and other aspects of research can take certain verbs in common usage without leading to confusion:
Some examples are
Theories, studies, results, and other aspects of research are sometimes paired with other kinds of actions that obscure the clarity of who is doing the action, though. For example, consider the active verbs here and whether it would be best if a person or group of people took the action described by the verbs:
Organizations, as groups of people, can take actions that are appropriate for human actors:
However, avoid ascribing actions to organizations when it is important to understand which specific people within the organization performed the action.
From an APA Style Expert: “Ask yourself whether it starts to sound weird to not list the name of a person. If it makes sense, it's okay. For example, I might say ‘Maslow's hierarchy of needs states that different needs have different importance’ and I would not reword this to "Maslow stated in his hierarchy of needs that different needs...." (C. Lee, personal communication, February 25, 2016).
American Psychological Association. (2020). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).