Social Connection Modulates Perceptions of Animacy

Katherine E. Powers, Andrea L. Worsham, Jonathan B. Freeman, Thalia Wheatley, Todd F. Heatherton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Human survival depends on identifying targets potentially capable of engaging in meaningful social connection. Using sets of morphed images created from animate (human) and inanimate (doll) faces, we found converging evidence across two studies showing that the motivation to connect with other people systematically alters the interpretation of the physical features that signal that a face is alive. Specifically, in their efforts to find and connect with other social agents, individuals who feel socially disconnected actually decrease their thresholds for what it means to be alive, consistently observing animacy when fewer definitively human cues are present. From an evolutionary perspective, overattributing animacy may be an adaptive strategy that allows people to cast a wide net when identifying possible sources of social connection and maximize their opportunities to renew social relationships.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1943-1948
Number of pages6
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 12 2014


  • face perception
  • interpersonal relationships
  • loneliness
  • motivation
  • social perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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