Research project: Anthropomorphism

Anthropomorphism describes the phenomenon when human character traits or intentions are used to describe and interpret the behavior of non-human animal species. A classic example of this: considering the “laughing” of orangutans to be an expression of joy when it is actually a threatening gesture.

Anthropomorphism seems to crop up more commonly when we identify ourselves with a particular animal species whose movements appear human to us or whose appearance we find to be especially cute. Dr. Cliodhna Quigley and Dr. Palmyre Boucherie (University of Vienna) are examining this phenomenon with the help of our visitors and zoo inhabitants.


The personal impressions of zoo visitors will be tapped to help determine whether we tend to “humanize” the behavior of primates the more closely related we are to the particular species.


This study examines how humans perceive (zoo) animals. The results are expected to yield a better understanding of how we describe and evaluate various primate species based on their external features and their behavior.


Interested visitors were invited to the enclosures of six primate species (orangutans, barbary apes, red-ruffed lemurs, squirrel monkeys, gibbons and sakis) and asked to fill out anonymously a short questionnaire about the impression the zoo animals made on them regarding beauty, cuteness or even their facial expressions. A second set of visitors (the control group) were queried about the same features of meerkats and prairie dogs.