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 follow example 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.
- This phrasing suggests that the study, an inanimate object, can draw conclusions.
Possible revision: The study addresses the impact of increased screen time on children's ability to perform higher-order cognitive tasks.
- This revision uses common phrasing in academic writing, "The study addresses." In this phrase, the verb "addresses" is acceptable because it is not an active verb that is better suited to human actors.
Possible revision: In this study, I concluded that increased screen time contributed to children's inability to perform higher-order cognitive tasks.
- This revision clearly identifies "I" as the person drawing the conclusions. Whenever possible, use the first-person pronoun "I" for clarity in describing your study.
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.
American Psychological Association. (2020). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).