Anthropocentrism and Microorganisms: Implications for Biosecurity

Keywords: Covid-19, Secondary school, Young people, Anthropomorphism, New Zealand


The world is changing: both a conventional and a vaccine passport are now needed to travel internationally. Mask mandates, and social distancing are the new norm in a rapidly changing society. These measures were put in place to control the spread of the highly infectious and often fatal Covid-19, caused by a viral agent, a microorganism, a zoonosis, and the cause of death for over 6 million people around the world. Considering this, maintaining biosecurity is important around the world to ensure public health. Biosecurity in New Zealand supposes that people including young people understand different pests and diseases that can harm public health. This qualitative study was conducted to gauge the biosecurity knowledge of 171 young people (14–15-year-olds). Young people were tested on their knowledge about biosecurity related plants, animals, and microorganisms. This paper reports specifically on the results of knowledge of microorganisms of young people. Results show that negative anthropocentric views dominate adolescents understanding of microorganisms and anthropomorphism is widely used to explain microorganism activity. An educational programme, targeted at developing a conceptual understanding about microorganisms starting at primary education may help develop a more educated global citizen, one versed in understanding the biology of microorganisms.


Download data is not yet available.


Airenti, G. (2018). The development of anthropomorphism in interaction: Intersubjectivity, imagination, and theory of mind. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 2136.

Akshaya, A., & Chellerian, S. (2021). Anthropomorphism in Animation-Disney's movie Zootopia and Animated Series Beastars. Annals of the Romanian Society for Cell Biology, 25(6), 8875-8881.

Australian Curriculum Assessment Reporting Authority. (2015). Senior Secondary Curriculum: Biology.

Bates, C. (2016). When foot-and-mouth disease stopped the UK in its tracks.

Brossard Stoos, K. A., & Haftel, M. (2017). Using anthropomorphism and fictional story development to enhance student learning. Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education, 18(1), 101-128

Bryman, A. (2004). Social Research Methods: Second edition. London: Oxford University Press

Cuevas-Parra, P. (2020). Co-researching with children in the time of COVID-19: Shifting the narrative on methodologies to generate knowledge. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 19, 1-12.

Dorion, K. (2011). A learner’s tactic: how secondary students’ anthropomorphic language may support learning of abstract science concepts. The Electronic Journal for Research in Science & Mathematics Education, 15(2), 1-22.

Fitzpatrick, M. C., & Galvani, A. P. (2021). Optimizing age-specific vaccination. Science, 371(6532), 890-891.

Guthrie SE (1997) Anthropomorphism: a definition and theory. In R. W. Mitchell, N. S. Thompson, & H. L. Miles (Eds.) Anthropomorphism, anecdotes, and animals (pp. 50–58). State University of New York Press

Henare, S. J. (2016). The nutritional composition of kiwifruit (Actinidia spp.). In M. S. J. Simmonds & V. R. Preedy (Eds.) Nutritional composition of fruit cultivars (pp. 337-370). Academic Press.

Jacobs, M. (2021, Sep 23). Rangatahi vaccine campaign to launch as Govt feels sting of low Māori vaccination rates.

Kallery, M., & Psillos, D. (2004). Anthropomorphism and animism in early years science: Why teachers use them, how they conceptualise them and what are their views on their use. Research in Science Education, 34(3), 291-311.

Kauri Dieback Disease. (2021). Why kauri are so important?

Larsen, N. E., Lee, K., & Ganea, P. A. (2018). Do storybooks with anthropomorphized animal characters promote prosocial behaviors in young children. Developmental Science, 21(3), 1-9.

Li, H., Eisen, S., & Lillard, A. S. (2019). Anthropomorphic media exposure and preschoolers’ anthropomorphic thinking in China. Journal of Children and Media, 13(2), 149-162.

McAloose, D., Laverack, M., Wang, L., Killian, M. L., Caserta, L. C., Yuan, F., ... & Diel, D. G. (2020). From people to Panthera: Natural SARS-CoV-2 infection in tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo. MBio, 11(5), e02220-20.

McCabe, S., & Nekaris, K. A. I. (2019). The impact of subtle anthropomorphism on gender differences in learning conservation ecology in Indonesian school children. Applied Environmental Education & Communication, 18(1), 13-24.

Ministry for Primary Industries. (2021a). Biosecurity.

Ministry for Primary Industries. (2021b). Household goods and personal effects importing to NZ.

Ministry of Education. (2007). The New Zealand Curriculum. Learning Media

Ministry of Health. (2020). Botulism.

Oreshkova, N., Molenaar, R. J., Vreman, S., Harders, F., Munnink, B. B. O., Hakze-van Der Honing, R. W., & Stegeman, A. (2020). SARS-CoV-2 infection in farmed minks, the Netherlands, April and May 2020. Eurosurveillance, 25(23), 1-7.

Piaget, J. (1929). The Child’s Conception of the World. Routledge & Keagan Paul.

Schurgin, M. W., & Flombaum, J. I. (2017). Exploiting core knowledge for visual object recognition. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 146(3), 362.

Sit, T. H., Brackman, C. J., Ip, S. M., Tam, K. W., Law, P. Y., To, E. M., & Peiris, M. (2020). Infection of dogs with SARS-CoV-2. Nature, 586(7831), 776-778.

Sooksawasdi Na Ayudhya, S., & Kuiken, T. (2021). Reverse zoonosis of COVID-19: lessons from the 2009 influenza pandemic. Veterinary Pathology, 58(2), 234-242.

Špernjak, A., Jug Puhmeister, A., & Šorgo, A. (2021). Public opinions and knowledge about microorganisms. Research in Science & Technological Education, 41(2), 800-819.

Te Kete Ipurangi. (2021). Level 2 Biology assessment resources [AS91154].

UK Department of Education. (2015). Statutory guidance National curriculum in England: science programmes of study.

United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation. (2017). Basic Sciences: Biotechnology.

Watson, R., Burgess, L., Sellars, E., Crooks, J., McGowan, R., Diffey, J., & McMellon, C. (2023). A qualitative study exploring the benefits of involving young people in mental health research. Health Expectations, 26(4), 1491-1504.

Wood, M. (2019). The potential for anthropomorphism in communicating science: inspiration from Japan. Cultures of Science, 2(1), 23-34.

World Health Organisation. (2020). Zoonoses.

Yue, D., Tong, Z., Tian, J., Li, Y., Zhang, L., & Sun, Y. (2021). Anthropomorphic Strategies Promote Wildlife Conservation through Empathy: The Moderation Role of the Public Epidemic Situation. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(7), 35-65.

How to Cite
Ram, R. (2023). Anthropocentrism and Microorganisms: Implications for Biosecurity. Teachers’ Work, 20(2), 239-256.