Personifying Objects.. Is it just me?

This is a rather odd one really. I’ve just upgraded my phone, and am going to trade in this one which I’ve had for just short of two years. The weird thing is how I am feeling emotionally attached, sad and guilty towards my old phone. A proper pang, like I’m abandoning a human!

I know I’ve felt like this about objects or places before, but I think it’s weird.. So I went on and googled.. Below is an interesting thread on the subject:-

For example, if one is using multiple pens to write something and has not used one of them in awhile, one may think it is “feeling” “left out” and so will switch to use that one. A logical mind KNOWS that inanimate objects cannot feel but one may have such empathy for all things – living or not – that one may attribute human feelings and emotions to them and an emotional brain does this automatically. It is not a conscious action, it is automatic and it dictates how one interacts with things. One can use a logical mind to recognize it but stills feel compelled to make sure everything is taken care of and included. Is this a specific disorder or just a piece of one of another disorder?

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Interesting question. I have thought about this a lot, and while I cannot offer a conclusive answer, I can offer some ideas that stem from scientific literature.

To answer your specific question: No, there is no officially-recognized disorder that causes one to assume human emotions in objects. To be fair, the condition you have described does not constitute the definition of ‘[mental] disorder’ because, by definition, a mental disorder is a mental or behavioral pattern that causes suffering or poor ability to function in life. On the contrary, it seems that this behavioral pattern of yours is helpful to you, for reasons that I will explain below.

There is a theory that the brain forms an image of the body’s homeostatic sensations in the “primary interoceptive cortex” of the brain. This area is located in the insula, which is linked to emotion (the body’s homeostasis), as well as empathy. [1] This theory is supported by fMRI imaging, which shows activity in the insular cortex when one is asked to feel one’s own heartbeat, or empathize with the pain or emotional state of others. [2] Coincidentally, the insula is also involved in psychopathology, or the study of mental disorders. Specifically, it is linked to anxiety disorders [3] and emotional dysregulation. [4]

The spindle neurons found at a higher density in the right frontal insular cortex are also found in the anterior cingulate cortex, and it has been speculated that these neurons are involved in cognitive-emotional processes that are specific to primates, such as empathy and self-aware emotional feelings. While the mechanisms behind the insular cortex are not well known, it is thought that these functions arise as a consequence of the insula’s ability to relay its internal ‘homeostasis’ (or its overall well-being) to the conscious observer. [2]

Given the evidence that empathy is associated with insular activity, and given the evidence that the insula regulates the body’s internal sense of ‘homeostasis’, it can be inferred that those who are highly sensitive (i.e. highly attuned to their internal level of homeostasis) are automatically highly attuned to the others in their environment, as well. Thus, there may be a tendency to expect similar levels of sensitivity in other things, and (by proxy) there may be a tendency to ‘tread lightly’ around others due to an automatic assumption that they are similarly sensitive. This may extend to inanimate objects, if one recognizes that the ‘environment’ that the object is in is not maintained in the body’s subjective view of homeostasis.

Another thing to consider is that young children often show attachment or subjective association of feelings to objects, and that this is considered normal in young age because of the positive effects it seems to have on children. One study found that children who attended day-care full-time were significantly more likely to develop attachments to inanimate objects than children who only attended day-care part-time. It is not certain why this is the case, though it can be speculated that increased exposure to the real world (and time away from the parent or guardian) increases the child’s anxiety as they learn to become independent. A prior studyfound that there was no link between behavioral disturbances and object attachment; on the contrary, another study found that children used object attachment as a mechanism for arousal reduction (and, thus, anxiety-reduction) in the face of adversity or discomfort in the environment. [5] As I mentioned before, it is thought that children use these objects to transition from dependence to independence.

This is different from treating objects as if they were people, because this is essentially using the object as a token of security to replace the mother as the child advances in age, thus allowing the child to become independent. However, it may reveal insight into those who naturally associate objects with emotions, because it may represent an underlying anxiety in the individual. The attachment to the object may be a way for the individual to circumvent that — though it could also be unrelated, as this is still in a speculative stage.

Overall, however, I would say that this behavior does not implicate disorder in an individual. To the contrary, it appears to be a soothing mechanism. If I had to make an informed guess based on the information above, I would theorize that those who continue to associate emotions with inanimate objects outside of childhood may simply have stronger natural insular activity, and thus a stronger tendency towards one’s internal ‘homeostasis’, or emotional activity. Because the individual is naturally more sensitive to the environment / emotional affect of others due to heightened activity in the insular cortex, they naturally attempt to regulate the environment’s ‘homeostasis’ based on the individual’s own bodily concept of homeostasis. Thus, if you were to feel left out if you were a pen that was not being used, then you may very well treat every pen the way you wanted to be treated. 🙂


Sources used:

[1] Emeran A. Mayer (August 2011). “Gut feelings: the emerging biology of gut–brain communication”. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 12: 453–466.

[2] Benedetto De Martino, Dharshan Kumaran, Ben Seymour, and Raymond J. Dolan (August 2006). “Frames, Biases, and Rational Decision-Making in the Human Brain”. Science 313 (6): 684–687.

[3] Paulus MP, Stein MB (August 2006). “An insular view of anxiety”. Biol. Psychiatry 60 (4): 383–7.

[4] Thayer JF, Lane RD (December 2000). “A model of neurovisceral integration in emotion regulation and dysregulation”. J Affect Disord 61 (3): 201–16

[5] Passman R. H. (1976). Arousal reducing properties of attachment objects: testing the functional limits of the security blanket relative to the mother. Dev. Psychol. 12 468–469 10.1037/0012-1649.12.5.468

  • Excellent information and the listing of sources gives me more to read! I am sorry for it appearing I was looking for a diagnosis – I was not directly. I was curious if a disorder existed and when I went to write the question, the instructions said to give specific instances lol Thank you very much for the information. CStJohn Aug 10 ’15 at 22:48
    Edited to make it more generalized! CStJohnAug 10 ’15 at 23:36
    Edited to make it more generalized! CStJohnAug 10 ’15 at 23:36

Interesting question. I have thought about this a lot, and while I cannot offer a conclusive answer, I can offer some ideas that stem from scientific literature.

To answer your specific question: No, there is no officially-recognized disorder that causes one to assume human emotions in objects. To be fair, the condition you have described does not constitute the definition of ‘[mental] disorder’ because, by definition, a mental disorder is a mental or behavioral pattern that causes suffering or poor ability to function in life. On the contrary, it seems that this behavioral pattern of yours is helpful to you, for reasons that I will explain below.

There is a theory that the brain forms an image of the body’s homeostatic sensations in the “primary interoceptive cortex” of the brain. This area is located in the insula, which is linked to emotion (the body’s homeostasis), as well as empathy. [1] This theory is supported by fMRI imaging, which shows activity in the insular cortex when one is asked to feel one’s own heartbeat, or empathize with the pain or emotional state of others. [2] Coincidentally, the insula is also involved in psychopathology, or the study of mental disorders. Specifically, it is linked to anxiety disorders [3] and emotional dysregulation. [4]

The spindle neurons found at a higher density in the right frontal insular cortex are also found in the anterior cingulate cortex, and it has been speculated that these neurons are involved in cognitive-emotional processes that are specific to primates, such as empathy and self-aware emotional feelings. While the mechanisms behind the insular cortex are not well known, it is thought that these functions arise as a consequence of the insula’s ability to relay its internal ‘homeostasis’ (or its overall well-being) to the conscious observer. [2]

Given the evidence that empathy is associated with insular activity, and given the evidence that the insula regulates the body’s internal sense of ‘homeostasis’, it can be inferred that those who are highly sensitive (i.e. highly attuned to their internal level of homeostasis) are automatically highly attuned to the others in their environment, as well. Thus, there may be a tendency to expect similar levels of sensitivity in other things, and (by proxy) there may be a tendency to ‘tread lightly’ around others due to an automatic assumption that they are similarly sensitive. This may extend to inanimate objects, if one recognizes that the ‘environment’ that the object is in is not maintained in the body’s subjective view of homeostasis.

Another thing to consider is that young children often show attachment or subjective association of feelings to objects, and that this is considered normal in young age because of the positive effects it seems to have on children. One study found that children who attended day-care full-time were significantly more likely to develop attachments to inanimate objects than children who only attended day-care part-time. It is not certain why this is the case, though it can be speculated that increased exposure to the real world (and time away from the parent or guardian) increases the child’s anxiety as they learn to become independent. A prior studyfound that there was no link between behavioral disturbances and object attachment; on the contrary, another study found that children used object attachment as a mechanism for arousal reduction (and, thus, anxiety-reduction) in the face of adversity or discomfort in the environment. [5] As I mentioned before, it is thought that children use these objects to transition from dependence to independence.

This is different from treating objects as if they were people, because this is essentially using the object as a token of security to replace the mother as the child advances in age, thus allowing the child to become independent. However, it may reveal insight into those who naturally associate objects with emotions, because it may represent an underlying anxiety in the individual. The attachment to the object may be a way for the individual to circumvent that — though it could also be unrelated, as this is still in a speculative stage.

Overall, however, I would say that this behavior does not implicate disorder in an individual. To the contrary, it appears to be a soothing mechanism. If I had to make an informed guess based on the information above, I would theorize that those who continue to associate emotions with inanimate objects outside of childhood may simply have stronger natural insular activity, and thus a stronger tendency towards one’s internal ‘homeostasis’, or emotional activity. Because the individual is naturally more sensitive to the environment / emotional affect of others due to heightened activity in the insular cortex, they naturally attempt to regulate the environment’s ‘homeostasis’ based on the individual’s own bodily concept of homeostasis. Thus, if you were to feel left out if you were a pen that was not being used, then you may very well treat every pen the way you wanted to be treated. 🙂


Sources used:

[1] Emeran A. Mayer (August 2011). “Gut feelings: the emerging biology of gut–brain communication”. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 12: 453–466.

[2] Benedetto De Martino, Dharshan Kumaran, Ben Seymour, and Raymond J. Dolan (August 2006). “Frames, Biases, and Rational Decision-Making in the Human Brain”. Science 313 (6): 684–687.

[3] Paulus MP, Stein MB (August 2006). “An insular view of anxiety”. Biol. Psychiatry 60 (4): 383–7.

[4] Thayer JF, Lane RD (December 2000). “A model of neurovisceral integration in emotion regulation and dysregulation”. J Affect Disord 61 (3): 201–16

[5] Passman R. H. (1976). Arousal reducing properties of attachment objects: testing the functional limits of the security blanket relative to the mother. Dev. Psychol. 12 468–469 10.1037/0012-1649.12.5.468

  • Excellent information and the listing of sources gives me more to read! I am sorry for it appearing I was looking for a diagnosis – I was not directly. I was curious if a disorder existed and when I went to write the question, the instructions said to give specific instances lol Thank you very much for the information. CStJohn Aug 10 ’15 at 22:48
    Edited to make it more generalized! CStJohnAug 10 ’15 at 23:36
    Edited to make it more generalized! CStJohnAug 10 ’15 at 23:36
  • Excellent information and the listing of sources gives me more to read! I am sorry for it appearing I was looking for a diagnosis – I was not directly. I was curious if a disorder existed and when I went to write the question, the instructions said to give specific instances lol Thank you very much for the information. CStJohn Aug 10 ’15 at 22:48
    Edited to make it more generalized! CStJohnAug 10 ’15 at 23:36
    Edited to make it more generalized! CStJohnAug 10 ’15 at 23:36
  • Excellent information and the listing of sources gives me more to read! I am sorry for it appearing I was looking for a diagnosis – I was not directly. I was curious if a disorder existed and when I went to write the question, the instructions said to give specific instances lol Thank you very much for the information. CStJohn Aug 10 ’15 at 22:48
    Edited to make it more generalized! CStJohnAug 10 ’15 at 23:36
  • Excellent information and the listing of sources gives me more to read! I am sorry for it appearing I was looking for a diagnosis – I was not directly. I was curious if a disorder existed and when I went to write the question, the instructions said to give specific instances lol Thank you very much for the information. CStJohn Aug 10 ’15 at 22:48
    Edited to make it more generalized! CStJohnAug 10 ’15 at 23:36
  • Edited to make it more generalized! CStJohnAug 10 ’15 at 23:36

    Edited to make it more generalized! CStJohnAug 10 ’15 at 23:36
    @CStJohn Glad you found it helpful! Thank you for editing the original post, as well. I’m not sure if you can edit your own title of the question, but if you could remove the ‘me’ in ‘…causes me to give…’ from the original question and replace it with something more general (i.e., ‘…causes one to give…’), it would eliminate the risk of this question seeming like a self-help question. 🙂 Sydney Maples Aug 10 ’15 at 23:39
    @CStJohn Glad you found it helpful! Thank you for editing the original post, as well. I’m not sure if you can edit your own title of the question, but if you could remove the ‘me’ in ‘…causes me to give…’ from the original question and replace it with something more general (i.e., ‘…causes one to give…’), it would eliminate the risk of this question seeming like a self-help question. 🙂 – Sydney Maples Aug 10 ’15 at 23:39
    Source: Psychology and neuroscience stack exchange.

  • Edited to make it more generalized! CStJohnAug 10 ’15 at 23:36
    @CStJohn Glad you found it helpful! Thank you for editing the original post, as well. I’m not sure if you can edit your own title of the question, but if you could remove the ‘me’ in ‘…causes me to give…’ from the original question and replace it with something more general (i.e., ‘…causes one to give…’), it would eliminate the risk of this question seeming like a self-help question. 🙂 Sydney Maples Aug 10 ’15 at 23:39
    @CStJohn Glad you found it helpful! Thank you for editing the original post, as well. I’m not sure if you can edit your own title of the question, but if you could remove the ‘me’ in ‘…causes me to give…’ from the original question and replace it with something more general (i.e., ‘…causes one to give…’), it would eliminate the risk of this question seeming like a self-help question. 🙂 – Sydney Maples Aug 10 ’15 at 23:39
    Source: Psychology and neuroscience stack exchange.
Edited to make it more generalized! CStJohnAug 10 ’15 at 23:36
@CStJohn Glad you found it helpful! Thank you for editing the original post, as well. I’m not sure if you can edit your own title of the question, but if you could remove the ‘me’ in ‘…causes me to give…’ from the original question and replace it with something more general (i.e., ‘…causes one to give…’), it would eliminate the risk of this question seeming like a self-help question. 🙂 Sydney Maples Aug 10 ’15 at 23:39
@CStJohn Glad you found it helpful! Thank you for editing the original post, as well. I’m not sure if you can edit your own title of the question, but if you could remove the ‘me’ in ‘…causes me to give…’ from the original question and replace it with something more general (i.e., ‘…causes one to give…’), it would eliminate the risk of this question seeming like a self-help question. 🙂 – Sydney Maples Aug 10 ’15 at 23:39
Source: Psychology and neuroscience stack exchange.


@CStJohn Glad you found it helpful! Thank you for editing the original post, as well. I’m not sure if you can edit your own title of the question, but if you could remove the ‘me’ in ‘…causes me to give…’ from the original question and replace it with something more general (i.e., ‘…causes one to give…’), it would eliminate the risk of this question seeming like a self-help question. 🙂 Sydney Maples Aug 10 ’15 at 23:39
@CStJohn Glad you found it helpful! Thank you for editing the original post, as well. I’m not sure if you can edit your own title of the question, but if you could remove the ‘me’ in ‘…causes me to give…’ from the original question and replace it with something more general (i.e., ‘…causes one to give…’), it would eliminate the risk of this question seeming like a self-help question. 🙂 – Sydney Maples Aug 10 ’15 at 23:39
Source: Psychology and neuroscience stack exchange.

  • @CStJohn Glad you found it helpful! Thank you for editing the original post, as well. I’m not sure if you can edit your own title of the question, but if you could remove the ‘me’ in ‘…causes me to give…’ from the original question and replace it with something more general (i.e., ‘…causes one to give…’), it would eliminate the risk of this question seeming like a self-help question. 🙂 – Sydney Maples Aug 10 ’15 at 23:39
    Source: Psychology and neuroscience stack exchange.

@CStJohn Glad you found it helpful! Thank you for editing the original post, as well. I’m not sure if you can edit your own title of the question, but if you could remove the ‘me’ in ‘…causes me to give…’ from the original question and replace it with something more general (i.e., ‘…causes one to give…’), it would eliminate the risk of this question seeming like a self-help question. 🙂 – Sydney Maples Aug 10 ’15 at 23:39
Source: Psychology and neuroscience stack exchange.

    Edited to make it more generalized! CStJohnAug 10 ’15 at 23:36
    • @CStJohn Glad you found it helpful! Thank you for editing the original post, as well. I’m not sure if you can edit your own title of the question, but if you could remove the ‘me’ in ‘…causes me to give…’ from the original question and replace it with something more general (i.e., ‘…causes one to give…’), it would eliminate the risk of this question seeming like a self-help question. 🙂 Sydney Maples Aug 10 ’15 at 23:39
    @CStJohn Glad you found it helpful! Thank you for editing the original post, as well. I’m not sure if you can edit your own title of the question, but if you could remove the ‘me’ in ‘…causes me to give…’ from the original question and replace it with something more general (i.e., ‘…causes one to give…’), it would eliminate the risk of this question seeming like a self-help question. 🙂 Sydney Maples Aug 10 ’15 at 23:39
    Source: Psychology and neuroscience stack exchange.
    Source: Psychology and neuroscience stack exchange.

    The Journey

    The train left without me, I’m not sure where it was headed exactly.. but it seemed to be where everyone else wanted to go, so I tried to get on board. It was just too full and I couldn’t fit in. I found myself battered, bruised and thrown back out.

    So there I stood confused amongst the dust that rose in its wake, abandoned on the empty platform as the train sped away. I stared briefly before composing myself and dusting myself down. That was when I could see that my destiny was to walk a slow and lonely journey without fellow travellers.

    It dawned on me that although my way would be different from theirs – less certain and often quite exhausting – it may be that I was the lucky one. I would have time to see things of beauty that would whizz past their windows. I would be able to spare time to stop and help other lone travellers, and perhaps hear their unique stories. I would have time to love in a different way. And as I set off on my journey, I realised that my baggage would only hinder me, so I threw it away and travelled empty handed.. stripped back down to how I once had arrived. FREE

    Mess (poem)

    Look here i stand
    Dark clothes in dark shadows
    And in this peace
    My head is thumping loudly
    Saying to me
    Over and again..

    Girl, you’re a mess
    Nobody ever liked you
    They could not care less
    Cos you’re a mess
    Just look at you
    You look so fat and ugly
    Wearing that dress
    You dirty mess

    There must be more than this..

    Life has an unlikely way of feeling both underwhelming and overwhelming at the same time. Small tasks and decisions are too much for me, and yet I yearn to be alive. To live.

    I want to be alone, and yet the pain of loneliness kills me on a daily basis. Every song, film or television programme.. Every Facebook post, even just sitting in the garden hearing the neighbours together socialising, enjoying barbecues of a warm evening. I’m always on the outside looking on. That is how my entire life has felt.

    I’m in this rut, this self created prison. My entire existence is governed by fear, longing and self loathing. I crave to be loved, but I cannot see myself as lovable. I can’t imagine trusting someone enough to allow them an important part of my life, the mere thought of that makes me feel my vulnerability and causes me to retreat.

    Even friendship is alien to me. Sure I’ve had friends over the years, but they have only been people I see here and there rather than close friends who would notice if you are unhappy. The ones I ever did get close to abandoned me eventually, and the pain is not something I want to ever risk repeating.

    The only two people I’ve ever known would always be there and who truly cared are my mum and dad. Now Dad has cancer and Mum is not in good health and waiting for a hernia operation. I’m scared. No, terrified.

    I don’t remember the last warm physical contact I had. My entire being craves to be held in someone’s sheltering arms. I wish someone could break down the walls I have around me and show me that life can be good. Because there must be more than this.

    Disconnect poem

    Is there common ground
    That we have found?
    I’m yearning to belong
    We’re breathing
    We are hurting
    But the pain you hide
    Somehow I know inside

    Not a day goes by
    That I don’t die
    Another part of me
    I’m losing
    I am stranded
    Won’t you walk with me
    And find out what might be

    Life is simply there
    No-one can share
    The path you have to take
    We crave more
    Real connection
    I’ve been searching years
    An ocean made of tears

    On this boat i drift
    I cannot shift
    My body will not move
    I’m lifeless
    I am foolish
    That I chose the knife
    Instead of living life

    Read the message in
    The rusty tin
    I’m begging you to see
    You are beauty
    And alive
    In ways most never are
    I’ll love you from afar

    Forevermore

    Negative thoughts and me

    I go to bed every night thinking I’ve wasted another precious day. I wake up every morning thinking not another fucking day. That’s my routine. I wake up feeling crap, my eyes hurt, my head hurts and I never want to leave my bed. The things I used to enjoy no longer grab me. Nothing does. I don’t know if there’s any fight left in me. The tasks I would have to undertake to ever live a normal life seem insurmountable to me. Overwhelming. To achieve any of them, I would surely need the will to live. But I seem to have mislaid that shit.

    I feel sad a lot. I hate myself a lot. And as always that loneliness doesn’t let up. Yet recently I’ve been avoiding any human contact.. I see I’m not helping myself.. But everything just feels so pointless. I haven’t left the house in ages.

    On the most part, Dad is doing well. I’ve been avoiding thinking about his illness as much as I can. I’ve been avoiding everything as much as I can.

    I hate that I keep hearing Dad on the phone telling people it is terminal. I don’t want to go there, it’s more than I can bear. When the dreadful time comes.. Unless some miracle happens in the near future.. I think I will have to check out too. God knows.

    It might be OK if perhaps one thing had worked out in my pathetic life. Career? Friends who truly care? And oh love, the pièce de résistance. The thing I craved my entire life. Love. Not to mention children, who to me could only be a by-product of aforementioned love.

    I believe I had a lot of love to give. I believe I might have been a good mother. I believe my life had so much promise once, all of which I wasted.

    I long to wake up one day with a spring in my step and a renewed sense of hope. A new zest for living.

    One can but dream..