Are loneliness and free will beliefs associated with anthropomorphism?

ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by John Protzko and Marieke Wieringa
A recommendation of:

Revisiting the link between anthropomorphism and loneliness with an extension to free will belief: Replication and extensions of Epley et al. (2008)


Submission: posted 16 February 2022
Recommendation: posted 02 December 2022, validated 02 December 2022
Cite this recommendation as:
Chambers, C. (2022) Are loneliness and free will beliefs associated with anthropomorphism?. Peer Community in Registered Reports, .

Related stage 2 preprints:

Insufficient evidence of a positive association between chronic loneliness and anthropomorphism: Replication and extension Registered Report of Epley et al. (2008)
Qinyu Xiao, Mahmoud Elsherif, Hoi Yan Chu, Ming Chun Tang, Ting Hin (Angus) Wong, Yiming Wu, Christina Pomareda, Gilad Feldman


Anthropomorphism is a widespread phenomenon in which people instil non-human entities or objects with human-like characteristics, such as motivations, intentions, and goals. Although common, the tendency to anthropomorphise varies between people, and a growing body of psychological research has examined the importance of various individual differences. One major theoretical account of anthropomorphism (Epley et al. 2007) suggests that sociality motivation – the drive to establish social relationships – is a key moderator of the phenomenon. In support of this account, some evidence suggests that people who experience greater loneliness (a proposed marker of sociality motivation) are more likely to anthropomorphise. In an influential series of studies, Epley et al. (2008) found that anthropomorphism and loneliness were positively correlated and that inducing participants experimentally to feel more lonely led to greater anthropomorphism. Later studies, however, produced more mixed results, particularly concerning the effectiveness of the experimental interventions.
In the current study, Elsherif et al. (2022) propose a partial replication of Epley et al. (2008), focusing on the correlational relationship between anthropomorphism and loneliness, with extensions to examine free will beliefs, anthropomorphism for supernatural beings (in addition to objects/gadgets), and the extent to which participants judged objects/gadgets to be controllable.
The Stage 1 manuscript was evaluated over two rounds of in-depth review. Based on detailed responses to the reviewers' comments, the recommender judged that the manuscript met the Stage 1 criteria and therefore awarded in-principle acceptance (IPA).
URL to the preregistered Stage 1 protocol:
Level of bias control achieved: Level 6. No part of the data or evidence that will be used to answer the research question yet exists and no part will be generated until after IPA. 
List of eligible PCI RR-friendly journals:
1. Epley, N., Waytz, A., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2007). On seeing human: A three-factor theory of anthropomorphism. Psychological Review, 114, 864–886. 
2. Epley, N., Akalis, S., Waytz, A., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2008). Creating social connection through inferential reproduction: Loneliness and perceived agency in gadgets, Gods, and greyhounds. Psychological Science, 19, 114–120. 
3. Elsherif, M., Pomareda, C., Xiao, Q., Chu, H. Y., Tang, M. C., Wong, T. H., Wu, Y. &  Feldman, G. (2022). Revisiting the positive association between loneliness and anthropomorphism with an extension to belief in free will: Replication and extensions of Epley et al. (2008), in principle acceptance of Version 3 by Peer Community in Registered Reports.
Conflict of interest:
The recommender in charge of the evaluation of the article and the reviewers declared that they have no conflict of interest (as defined in the code of conduct of PCI) with the authors or with the content of the article.

Evaluation round #2

DOI or URL of the report:

Version of the report: v3

Author's Reply, 23 Nov 2022

Download author's reply Download tracked changes file

Revised manuscript:

All revised materials uploaded to:, updated manuscript under sub-directory "PCIRR Stage 1\PCI-RR submission following R&R 2"

Decision by ORCID_LOGO, posted 17 Nov 2022, validated 17 Nov 2022

The two reviewers from the first round kindly returned to evaluate your revised manuscript. Both are broadly satisfied with your revision and response, and there are now only a few minor matters to address. There remains a point of disagreement noted in John Protzko's review, for which he suggests a simple resolution that I think is sensible, and will help reach Stage 1 acceptance without further in-depth review. I look forward to receiving a final minor revision to address these remaining points from both reviewers.

Reviewed by , 21 Oct 2022

Reviewed by , 16 Nov 2022

I am fine with the changes the authors propose except one.

Their respectful diagreement about running a supplementary analysis removing the 'free will' item form the anthropomorphism scale. I, likewise, disagree (respectfully) with their response. It is not just a possibility of autocorrelation, but people who believe strongly in free will may be likely to give high ratings when asked about free will in general (a common method bias).

All I ask is a supplementary analysis removing that one item. I would be happy even if the authors gave it a caveat such as: "At the insistance of one reviewer, we run a completely exploratory and supplementary analysis where we eliminated the free will item from this anthropomorphism scale, for this lone reviewer's concern. This additional analysis shows..." and then fill in the rest.

Otherwise, I look forward to seeing the results of this manuscript.



Evaluation round #1

DOI or URL of the report:

Author's Reply, 29 Sep 2022

Download author's reply Download tracked changes file

Revised manuscript:

All revised materials uploaded to:, updated manuscript under sub-directory "PCIRR Stage 1\PCI-RR submission following R&R"

Decision by ORCID_LOGO, posted 01 May 2022

I have now received two very detailed and helpful evaluations of your submission. The good news is that both reviewers are broadly positive about the study while also providing constructive suggestions for improvement. Perhaps the main issue to address is clarifying and strengthening both the rationale and implementation of the free will belief extension, to address concerns about its justification and also the underlying precision of the measure. Concerns about this aspect of your design were raised by both reviewers.
Beyond this, the reviewers raise a broad range of specific points, from the consideration of literature in the introduction, to the validity of attention checks, to the completeness of reporting (in order to ensure a close replication), as well as a series of technical suggestions (e.g. to eliminate bots from the data).
On the basis of these reviews, I am happy to invite a major revision that addresses all points.

Reviewed by , 18 Apr 2022

The authors propose to replicate a correlational study, and extend it with some new domains and some new measures.

Methodological Review

The authors make a large number of deviations from the original study. Deviations that are important and improve the quality of the study, but deviations nonetheless.

Attention check: none were used in the original and no justification is given for their inclusion here. There is a common belief that attention checks improve data quality, but the evience behind such claims is spotty at best.

Lonliness scale: the authors are using a longer version that contains the original 3 items. This is nice, but in their results section for only the direct replication of lonliness --> anthropomorphism they should show the results with both the oginial 3 items and the whole scale.

Throughout: there needs to be a little more information on the scales: are the questions for each scale administered in fixed order? Are all the response options labeled or only anchors? Do participants see the numbers on the response options?

Throughout: report omega as a measure of internal consistency instead of Cronbach's alpha

The authors should add a captcha at the end, to take into account the bots on mTurk.

The authors should make explicit any requirements (e.g. country, participant completion rate, number of HITs completed, are Masterworkers allowed, etc.) and justify them.

The authors randomly order the presentation of the scales, which is another deviation. This is nice and I agree with their decision, but in their results section for only the direct replication of lonliness --> anthropomorphism they should show the results with both the oginial order (lonliness then gadgets) and then the whole sample.

I like the extension with Free Will beliefs, as it is a field I work in and topic I am interested in. There is a problem, however, in that part of the measure of anthropomorphism includes averaging an item asking if participants believe something or a supernatural object has free will. This creates an unintereesting autocorrelation of people who believe in free will believe other objects have free will. To create a faithful replication, the authors have to include the question, but for analyses involving the belief in free will as a predictor, they will need to create an alternate measure of anthropomorphism that does not include the free will itme averaged in.

Anthropomorphic Traits rank: summing the ranks is not a numerical value, it is putting numbers on something masquerading as a number. While I know this is a bigger problem in psychology and it could easily apply to Likert scales as well, it is another bridge to try to draw inferences about the total of a bunch of numbers from a rank order. I recommend the authors cut this measure completely.

Multiple regression model: I'm not sure the purpose of this model. It does not appear as a test of the 3-factor model, more of a test of what variables of what the authors collected is the stronger predictor. If the authors wish to keep this analysis, I would recommend the following changes: 1) use robust standard errors to account for any data issues; 2) analyze the model as a large path model with all predictors and dependent variables modelled together (this one isn't necessary, but would be an improvement and can provide a very nice graph for readers to understand); 3) test models using a likelihood ratio test as opposed to partial F-tests. 

Content Review

Abstract: reference to supplementary information is not necessary and should be reviewed.

p.3: Given the effect size of the original study, what was the power of the OSC replication (N=78) to detect that relationship? It should be reported in the ms.

p. 6: Somewhere in the introduction before page 6 should be a 1-paragraph overview of the original study (e.g. participants (N = 20) filled out the lonliness scale, were asked about X in gadgets. The original authors showed Y...). The section that starts 'controllability' jumps out at the reader who don't intimately know the study the authors are replicating.

p. 10: for the "has consciouness" items, there would be a grammatical error for angels has consciousness (should be have) and ghosts has consciousness (should be have). Will the authors change it?

p.12: put the hypotheses in the main manuscript.

p. 18: There is no closed bracket on the paragraph about nonconvergence.

Overall, I look forward to seeing the authors response and the eventual study.


Reviewed by , 26 Apr 2022

User comments

, 2023-01-31 21:30:18

As editor of the APA journal Psychology of Consciousness, I hope that you will consider submitting your manuscript “Revisiting the link between anthropomorphism and loneliness with an extension to free will belief: Replication and extensions of Epley et al. (2008)“ for acceptance by the journal—after it has been accepted PCI-RR. If you want to learn more about the journal, please consult its website And if you decide to submit your PCI-approved manuscript to Psychology of Consciousness, please note this approval in your cover letter. Robert Kunzendorf (editor)