Advances in Anthropology
2013. Vol.3, No.3, 157-163
Published Online August 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 157
Morphological Conservation in Human-Animal Hybrids in
Science Fiction and Fantasy Settings: Is Our Imagination as Free
as We Think It Is?
Matthieu J. Guitton1,2
1Faculty of Medicine, Laval University, Quebec City, Canada
2Institut Universitaire en Santé Mentale de Québec, Quebec City, Canada
Received March 1st, 2013; revised April 3rd, 2013; accepted May 20th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Matthieu J. Guitton. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons
Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
The question of whether human imagination knows no boundaries or is, alternatively, constrained by
conscious or unconscious cognitive templates is a key issue in defining human mind. We try here to ad-
dress this extremely large question by focusing on one particular element of imaginary creations, the spe-
cific case of human-animal hybrids. Human-animal hybrids are common inhabitants of human imaginary
spaces, being regularly encountered across numerous mythologies, as well as in modern popular culture.
If human imagination was unconstrained, it would be expected that such hybrid creatures would display
roughly half human and half animalistic features. Using several different popular science fiction and fan-
tasy settings, we conducted an analysis of the morphological traits of human-animal hybrids, both ana-
tomical and phenotypic. Surprisingly, we observed extremely high conservation of human morphological
traits in human-animal hybrids, with a contrasting high use of phenotypic (“cosmetic”) alterations, and
with highly stereotyped patterns of morphological alterations. While these alterations were independent of
the setting considered, shape alterations were setting-dependent and used as a way to increase internal
coherence. Finally, important gender differences were observed, as female human-animal hybrids retained
significantly more human traits than males did, suggesting that conservation of female appearance may
bear essential evolutionary importance. Taken together, these results demonstrate the existence of strong
cognitive templates which frame and limit the expression of the capacity of human imagination, and un-
veil some of the psychological mechanisms which constrain the emergence of imaginary spaces.
Keywords: Anthropomorphism; Gender Differences; Human Imagination; Imaginary Settings;
Science Fiction and Fantasy; Zoomorphism
Human beings take great pride in the capacity of their
imagination. From mythologies and traditional folklores to
modern science fiction and fantasy works, human dreams and
fantasies seem to know neither limits nor boundaries. However,
are we as free as we think we are when it comes to creating new
universes, beings, or creatures; or, alternatively, is imagination
constrained by—conscious or unconscious—cognitive tem-
plates? Do coherent imaginary spaces emerge only from ran-
dom imaginary creation process, or from some hidden forms of
cognitive determinants such as general psychological con-
straints of the human mind?
Addressing directly this extremely large question would
however be an impossible challenge. By definition, coherent
imaginary universes encompass numerous components, and too
many factors could be involved in their creation. A good way to
approach this fundamental question is to analyze the way mod-
ern fictional settings are built. Indeed, while mythological sys-
tems and traditional folkloric tales are by definition highly cul-
turally constrained, modern science fiction and fantasy settings
are arguably more “free”, in the sense that their creators are
supposed to be allowed to actively express their creativity to
transcend, and often transgress, the limits of reality. Visual
proximity to standard human appearance has been shown to be
critical in virtual spaces (Lortie & Guitton, 2011). Therefore,
we choose one particular element of imaginary universes—the
specific case of human-animal hybrids—and investigated it
quantitatively in order to unveil the putative existence of cogni-
tive mechanisms underlying their genesis.
Human-animal hybrids (in the context of this study, “hu-
man-animal hybrids” will be considered as isomorphic to an-
thropotheriomorphic creatures, i.e., beings displaying both hu-
man and animalistic features) are common inhabitants of hu-
man imaginary spaces. Such creatures are regularly encoun-
tered across numerous mythologies (Eliade, 1965; Black &
Green, 1992; Pinch, 2004), as well as in modern popular culture.
From the Hawkmen of the planet Mongo (from the comic strip
Flash Gordon) to the Valusian Serpent Men of Howard’s Thu-
rian Age (Howard, 1929) or the Draconians, reptilian humanoid
extraterrestrials from the British television series Doctor Who,
fictional creatures featuring morphological traits both from
humans and from Earth animals are a common element of
various science fiction and fantasy settings. Such human-animal
hybrids can be extremely various, since any possible living
Earth creature could give rise to human-animal hybrids in one
fictional setting or another. If human imagination was uncon-
strained, it would be expected that such hybrid creatures would
display roughly half human and half animalistic features.
Using three different popular science fiction and fantasy set-
tings taken from cinema and television, we conducted an analy-
sis of the morphological—both anatomical and phenotypic—
traits of human-animal hybrids. Our results unveil surprisingly
high conservation of human traits in human-animal hybrids,
whatever the setting studied, alongside with extremely con-
served anatomical patterns of alterations. In contrast, shape
alterations appear to be setting-dependant. Finally, the results
highlight significant gender differences, female human-animal
hybrids retaining much more human traits than males do. Taken
together, these results suggest the existence of constraining
cognitive models of how living organisms should look, which
are able to overpower the creative processes involved in imagi-
Material and Methods
General Protocol
Human-animal hybrids were systematically searched for in
three different settings (see below). Regardless of the setting,
only adult subjects were considered. For each human-animal
hybrid identified, anatomical alterations were calculated as a
percentage of the body which differed from a standard human
body. To do so, we used body charts dividing the human body
into proportional areas (Lomanowska & Guitton, 2012). The
Lund and Browder chart is a commonly used body chart which
was developed to assess the amount of skin damage in burn
victims (Harvey et al., 1984; Kasten et al., 2011). The original
chart divides the body into a total of 33 areas. In order to in-
crease its accuracy and resolution power, we further subdivided
the largest areas (e.g., upper and lower legs, torso) and areas
with characteristic features (hand subdivisions, spine), resulting
in a total of 49 areas. The use of these charts has been demon-
strated to have a high degree of reliability and consistency
(Wachtel et al., 2000; Lomanowska & Guitton, 2012).
For each subject, two measures were made for each area:
presence or absence of morphological alterations (i.e., modifi-
cation altering the skeletal structure of the subject), and pres-
ence or absence of phenotypic alterations (i.e., any phenotypic
element not found in a human being, e.g., non-human skin
color, fur, feathers, scales, etc.). The scores were then con-
verted into two percentages: the percentage of the body mor-
phologically altered, and the percentage of the body pheno-
typically altered.
For each subject, the putative presence of additional limbs
(arms, legs, wings, or tails) was noted. Finally, global shape
alterations (taller, smaller, fatter, or thinner than a normal hu-
man) were also recorded.
Corpus 1: Star Wars
We selected as the first model of a science fiction and fan-
tasy setting the fictional universe of “Star Wars”. Centered
around two series of three films (the original trilogy released
between 1977 and 1983; and the prequel trilogy released be-
tween 1999 and 2005), Star Wars is one of the most popular
science fiction and fantasy universes, spanning from movies
and novels to virtual spaces in which very large fan communi-
ties are extremely active (Guitton, 2012a, 2012b).
Star Wars features the classical elements of a science fiction
setting: technologically advanced civilizations, numerous—
humanoid and non-humanoid—alien species, spaceships and
space travel between distant planets, futuristic weaponry, intel-
ligent droids, etc. But interestingly, Star Wars also features the
classical elements of fantasy: the prominent role of a mystical
power referred to the “Force”, the dichotomous opposition of a
monastic order of mystically empowered “knights” (the “Jedi”)
and an evil group of equally empowered hidden warriors (the
“Sith”), characters engaged in epic adventures and far-travel-
ling quests. Lightsaber duels and Force powers provide a por-
trayal extremely similar to a classical “swords and sorcery”
setting. Hence, Star Wars encompasses characteristics from
both science fiction and fantasy, and represents a perfect exam-
ple of what such a universe could be.
Since our aim was to characterize the capacity of human
imagination in a manner that was as unbiased as possible, we
focused our sampling on the movies of the prequel trilogy with
Episode I: The Phantom Menace, released on May 19, 1999;
Episode II: Attack of the Clones, released on May 16, 2002;
and Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, released on May 19, 2005,
to avoid as much as possible the limitations related to the spe-
cial effects technologies of the early 80s compared to the com-
puter-assisted possibilities of the early 2000s. Among the nu-
merous aliens of the movies, several displayed animal features,
and were clearly originally designed as human-animal hybrids
(Figure 1). Human-animal hybrids were sampled from the
movies, and their anatomical and phenotypic characteristics
were quantified as described above. For each species, only one
individual for a given morphological type was counted. How-
ever, if several different morphological types existed within one
species (for instance the Gungan, with a standard morphologi-
cal type represented by the character of “Jar Jar Binks”, and
with a different morphological type seen with “Boss Rugor
Nass”), all of them were counted. When the movies were not
enough for evaluating the morphological (anatomical or phe-
notypic) characteristics of the subject, or in case of gender-
ambiguous characters, complementary information was ob-
tained from the extensive and authoritative online database of
the Star Wars universe “Wookieepedia” (http://starwars.wikia.
Figure 1.
Example of a human-animal hybrid in the Star Wars setting. (A) A
two-headed alien that was not considered as a human-animal hybrid. (B)
An alien (in this case a Quarren) that was considered as a hybrid be-
tween a human and a cephalopod.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Corpus 2: He-Man and the Masters of the Universe
To overcome the limitations of the Star Wars universe setting
as a model and to extend our results, we selected another sci-
ence fiction and fantasy corpus: the setting of “He-Man and the
Masters of the Universe”. He-Man is an extremely large media
franchise created by Mattel in 1981, which has been extended
since then to include four animated series, numerous comic
books, films, toy lines and other products, all of them relating
to the adventures of Prince Adam, a member of the royal family
of the fictional planet Eternia. Thanks to a mystically imbued
sword, Prince Adam can become He-Man, a Conan-like bar-
baric warrior with super-human strength fighting with his allies,
the Heroic Warriors, against evil forces lead by the infamous
Skeletor. Like the Star Wars universe, the setting of He-Man
and the Masters of the Universe has the characteristic of com-
bining both elements of swords and sorcery, and of science
fiction, featuring alongside heroic warriors and villainous foes,
ancestral magic, powerful artifacts, mystical creatures, and
science fiction technologies.
For the present study, we selected the most recent material
available from this franchise, i.e., the “He-Man and the Masters
of the Universe” animated television series developed between
2002 and 2004 by Mike Young Productions. All human-animal
hybrids featured in the 39 episodes of the two seasons of the
series were sampled and included in this study. The sampling
approach was the same as described above: for a given species,
only one individual per morphological type was selected. For
instance, all the cat warriors of Season 1 Episode 10 “Dragon’s
Brood” were morphologically identical, hence they were
counted only one time; in contrast, the Andreenids, a bee-hu-
man hybrid race, displayed three distinct morphologies for the
males: the one of the heroic warrior Buzz-Off, the bee soldiers
who were taller and displayed different chitinous alterations,
and the fatter and smaller basic bee workers, which, in addition
to the female Andreenid bee queen, resulted in four different
morphological types, hence four counts in the selected corpus.
Excluded from the sampling were hybrids of human and
mythical creatures (for instance, “King Hiss”, a hybrid of a
human and a hydra, leader of the Snake Men and main villain
of Season 2, first seen extremely briefly in Season 1 Episode 21
“Snake Pit”, then in most of the episodes of Season 2; or
“Snake Face”, a hybrid of a human and a gorgon, first seen in
Season 2 Episode 4 “Rise of the Snake Men, Part 1”, Figure 2).
Excluded were also characters under transient transformation
resulting in a hybrid of a human and a hybrid, or between two
hybrids (mainly seen in Season 2 Episode 8 “Second Skin”,
with a spell hybridizing humanoids with snake men, resulting
in human-lion/human-snake hybrids (cat warriors under the
spell) or human/human-snake hybrids (the heroic warriors
Man-at-Arms, Teela and Mekaneck under the spell). Indeed, in
the case of such complex hybridization situations, the theoreti-
cal 50/50 repartition of human and animal features could not be
assumed, and the results would have biased our sampling.
Two characters that evolved significantly during the series
(namely Stinkor (from a human-sloth hybrid to a human-skunk
hybrid, and Webstor, with two independent and strongly dif-
ferent forms of human-spider hybrid) were thus counted twice,
once for each human-animal hybrid form.
Corpus 3: She-Ra: Princess of Power
Since both the Star Wars movies and the two seasons of the
Figure 2.
Example of a human-animal hybrid in the New He-Man setting. Two
Snake Men, (A) Snake Face, a hybrid of a human and a mythological
creature (a gorgon), which was not included in our sampling, and (B)
Kobra Khan, a hybrid of a human and a cobra, included in our sam-
most recent He-Man animated series showed extremely few
female human-animal hybrids, we selected a third science fic-
tion and fantasy setting as a model. Since our aim was to spe-
cifically identify female human-animal hybrids, we choose the
setting of “She-Ra: Princess of Power”. Following the initial
success of the “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” series,
Mattel aimed to specifically reach a female audience, and Fil-
mation studios developed the animated series entitled “She-Ra:
Princess of Power” encompassing 93 episodes between 1985
and 1987.
The series takes place on the planet Etheria, where the Great
Rebellion tries to free the planet from the hideous ruling of the
powerful Evil Horde. Odds change in favor of the Rebellion
when former Horde captain Adora discovers she is the twin
sister of Prince Adam and able to transform into the powerful
She-Ra, the female mirror image of He-Man, when wielding a
mystical sword akin to the one of He-Man. This series share
with “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” the character-
istic of featuring both fantasy and science fiction elements.
Despite being a continuation of the initial franchise, the
“She-Ra: Princess of Power” series is clearly aimed at a female
audience, and therefore, the number of female characters is
significantly higher than in most of the other science fiction and
fantasy settings. Thus, this setting suited our needs perfectly.
We sampled all the human-animal hybrids featured in the 50
first episodes of the She-Ra: Princess of Power animated series.
The sampling approach was exactly the same as the one we
described in the previous paragraph (2.2. Corpus 2: He-Man
and the Masters of the Universe). For human-animal hybrid
characters able to shapeshift (shapeshifting being a relatively
common power in the “She-Ra: Princess of Power” setting, e.g.
Catra, Hordak, or Imp), only the “main form”, defined as the
most frequently taken form, was counted.
Statistical Analysis
For each of the anatomical areas evaluated, percentages were
computed for each setting, and within each setting, for each
gender. Independent percentages were obtained for morpho-
logical and phenotypic alterations. Due to various sizes of the
samples, we did not want to assume normality. Therefore,
comparisons between phenotypic and anatomical percentages
of alterations, and comparisons between male and female sub-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 159
jects were made using non-parametric Mann-Whitney U test.
The non-parametric distribution free Kolmogorov-Smirnov test
was used to compare the distributions of patterns of alterations
(Eadie et al., 1971; Stephens, 1979). All comparisons of distri-
butions with the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test were performed at
the 0.05 level of significance. When applicable, results are pre-
sented as mean ± SEM.
Star Wars
Among all the alien characters depicted in the three movies
of the prequel Star Wars trilogy, 26 different morphotypes were
identified as human-animal hybrids. Surprisingly, all of them
were males: while a few Star Wars aliens are female, it was
impossible to clearly identify any of them as human-animal
hybrids. Only 20.1% ± 3.7% of the body of the subjects dis-
played morphological alterations compared to the standard
human body form (Figure 3).
When considering the patterns of morphological alterations,
i.e., the specific anatomical areas which underwent morpho-
logical modification, we uncovered that only a few body areas
were favoured as the main targets of body alterations. The pat-
tern of morphological body alteration was clearly not random
(significantly different from a random 50% per area pattern of
alteration, Kolmogorov-Smirnov, p < 0.05), but was highly
conserved across subjects. Most of the modifications were
concentrated in several common areas (e.g., head, hands, and
feet), while other areas were almost never altered (e.g., torso,
arms). Interestingly, while the hands were often altered, the
alterations mostly consisted of a reduction in the number of
fingers (from 5 to 4 or 3) without other modification of the
shape of the hand or its functionality.
In contrast, the proportion of phenotypic alterations observed
(clearly non-human skin color, fur, feathers, etc.) was strikingly
different. Indeed, the Star Wars human-animal hybrids dis-
played 85.2% ± 6.7% of phenotypic body alterations (signifi-
cantly different from the percentage of morphological altera-
tions, p < 0.001, Figure 3).
Major deviations from the basic anatomical form of the hu-
man body, such as presence of additional limbs, were uncom-
mon. Only 19.23% of the observed subjects displayed a tail,
11.54% displayed wings (never resulting in the loss of the
hands), 7.69% a pair of supplementary arms, and none supple-
mentary legs. Major alterations of shape were more common.
In our sample, 34.62% of human-animal hybrids were smaller
than standard humans as portrayed in the same setting, 19.23%
were fatter, and only 11.54% were thinner and 3.85% taller.
We identified 38 human-animal hybrids in the 39 episodes of
the two seasons of the 2002-2004 “He-Man and the Masters of
the Universe” animated television series. No gender-ambiguous
characters were identified. The overall degree of morphological
alterations from human standard anatomy was of 26.6% ± 3.3%
of the body (not significantly different from what was ob-
served for Star Wars, p = 0.122, (Figure 3). Similarly to what
was seen for Star Wars, the phenotypic alterations were consid-
erably higher, affecting 87.3% ± 5% of the body (significantly
different from morphological alterations in He-Man setting, p <
0.001; but comparable to the phenotypic alterations in the Star
Figure 3.
Percentage of the human body morphologically and phenotypically
altered for male and female human-animal hybrids in the three settings
observed. This figure shows the percentage of the body altered for male
(upper panels) and female (lower panels) human-animal hybrids. For
each panel, the left column represent the percentage of morphological
alterations, and the right column the percentage of phenotypic altera-
tions. For each setting and gender, the size of the sample (number of
subjects) is indicated. ***denotes a difference between morphology and
phenotype of p < 0.001, # and ## denotes a difference between males and
females of p < 0.05 and p < 0.01 respectively.
Wars setting, p = 0.889, Figure 3).
However, extremely interesting results were observed when
considering gender differences. Although not common, a few
female human-animal hybrids were identified in the “He-Man”
settings. Among the 38 subjects, there were 33 males and 5
females. Striking differences emerged when considering gender
as a variable. The percentage of morphological alterations of
the 33 males was of 29.2% ± 3.5%. However, the 5 females
displayed only 9.6% ± 5% of their body as morphologically
altered. These two proportions were significantly different (p <
0.05). The fact that it was possible to statistically assess this
difference despite the female group being relatively small con-
firmed the strength of this effect.
A similar dichotomy was evident when analyzing the pheno-
typic alterations. While males showed 94.1% ± 3.6% of pheno-
typic alteration (not significantly different from the Star Wars
setting, p = 0.379), female human-animal hybrids showed only
42.8% ± 22.4% of phenotypic alteration (significantly different
from the He-Man males, p < 0.01).
As observed in the Star Wars setting, additional limbs were
relatively uncommon, with only 21.21% of the males and none
of the females displaying supplementary arms (all of them be-
ing human-invertebrate hybrids, either human-insects or hu
man-arachnids), and no supplementary legs were noted, neither
for males nor for females. The occurrence of tails was compa-
rable between males (21.21%) and females (20%). The case of
wings was interesting, as only 18.18% of the males displayed
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
wings, while this proportion reached 80% among the females
we observed.
Again, as in Star Wars, alterations of shape were common.
However, the type of shape alterations observed was fully dif-
ferent than in Star Wars. In the He-Man sample, 51.51% of
male human-animal hybrids were bigger (taller and with
stronger built), and only 9.09% were smaller, 6.06% thinner,
and 6.06% fatter. No shape alterations at all were observed for
female human-animal hybrids.
Due to the marked presence of the Snake Men, we were able
to identify a sub-group of human-reptile hybrids, consisting of
7 subjects. The case of these human-reptile hybrids was par-
ticularly interesting. Indeed, while 25.43% ± 2.19% of their
body showed morphological alterations, 100% of their body
presented phenotypic alterations. Furthermore, the proportion
of subjects wielding a tail increased significantly to 57.14% (p
< 0.05). Finally, skull and facial alterations occurred in 100%
of the cases for these hybrids, altogether resulting in a particu-
lar and characteristic sub-type.
Since female human-animal hybrids were not commonly
seen in the two previous settings, we specifically considered a
“female-enriched” science fiction and fantasy setting, the
“She-Ra: Princess of Power” universe. As expected, the uni-
verse of She-Ra had an overall higher proportion of female
characters, and a significantly higher proportion of female hu-
man-animal hybrids. In the first 50 Episodes of the series, we
identified 32 human-animal hybrids, including 22 males and 10
females (i.e. a proportion of 24% of females among human-ani-
mal hybrids). No gender-ambiguous characters were identified.
The global morphological alterations observed in the She-Ra
setting represented only 15.9% ± 3.3% of the body, which was
not significantly different from what was observed in the Star
Wars setting (p = 0.34), but significantly different from what
was observed in the He-Man setting (p < 0.01). This difference
can be explained by the high proportion of females within our
sample. Indeed, as seen in the He-Man setting, female hu-
man-animal hybrids displayed significantly less morphological
alterations than males (Figure 3).
When considering only male hybrids, the overall extent of
morphological alterations was 19.6% ± 4.4% of the body,
which was still higher than the proportion observed for male
hybrids in the He-Man setting (p < 0.05), but not significantly
different from the proportion of morphological alterations ob-
served in Star Wars (p = 0.983). In contrast, only 7.8% ± 2.9%
of the body was morphologically altered for female human-ani-
mal hybrids, which was similar to what was observed for the
female hybrids from the He-Man setting (not significantly dif-
ferent, p = 0.16), but was significantly different from the mor-
phological alterations in females in the She-Ra setting (p < 0.05)
and in males in the He-Man (p < 0.001) and Star Wars settings
(p < 0.05).
Concerning the phenotypic alterations, the She-Ra setting
replicates what was observed in the two previous settings. The
overall proportion of the body displaying phenotypic alterations
was 70.8% ± 7.5%, which was not significantly different from
either the Star Wars (p = 0.26), or the He-Man settings (p =
0.166). Once again, we observed major differences between
male and female human-animal hybrids. While males displayed
a proportion of 84.5% ± 7.4% of their body with phenotypic
alterations (not significantly different from the males of Star
Wars, p = 0.753, or of He-Man settings, p = 0.716); females
displayed much less phenotypic modifications, accounting for
only 40.9% ± 14.1% of their body, which was not significantly
different from the proportion of phenotypic alterations observed
for He-Man females (p = 0.667) but was significantly different
from the proportion of phenotypic alterations of She-Ra males
(p < 0.01), Star Wars males (p < 0.01), and He-Man males (p <
The female sampling in the She-Ra setting was large enough
to conduct a more detailed analysis of the exact modifications
observed. Again, the proportion of female hybrids displaying
wings was higher than for male hybrids (40% vs. 22.73%).
However, apart from wings, female hybrids did not show sup-
plementary limbs (0% of supplementary arms, 0% of supple-
mentary legs, and 10% of “other” supplementary limbs, in this
case due to one human-octopus hybrid displaying two tentacles).
Shape alterations were also limited (20% of female hybrids
being smaller than regular humans, compared to 22.73% for
males; no other shape alterations were evident for female hy-
The main conclusion of this study is that human imagination
is contrainted by cognitive templates. The process of creation of
humanoid creatures in science fiction or fantasy settings is not
random, but obeys very strict set of—conscious or unconscious
—rules. While the body appearance can be altered, human
morphological traits are highly conserved. The patterns of
morphological alterations are extremely stereotyped. Finally,
female human-animal hybrids retain more human traits than do
males (Figure 3).
Patterns of Alterations: Morphology vs. Phenotype
While phenotypic alterations were extremely common, true
anatomical alterations were much more limited. This was first
observed in the setting of Star Wars. However, this particular
universe presented a few problems: first, despite presenting
extremely important diversity (Guitton, 2012b), the Star Wars
universe was still only one particular setting; second, despite
their famous special effects, the Star Wars movies were still
shaped by the limitations inherent of a movie; third, while fe-
male aliens were observed, no female hybrids were identified in
this setting. Therefore, we decided to choose a second setting—
He-Man—to see whether these results could be generalized.
This was indeed the case. However, very few females were still
observed. Hence, we selected a third setting specifically de-
signed to incorporate a higher proportion of female characters.
The results obtained with the She-Ra setting confirmed our
Almost all types of animal species were represented in our
sampling. Despite a few specific instances related to the set-
tings (see below), modifications were more “cosmetic” than
“structural”. In other words, the observed modifications af-
fected “aesthetics” rather than “biology”. Most modifications
consisted solely of theriocephaly (replacing a human head by
the head of an animal). Tails, one of the most animalistic and
identifiable traits, were largely absent in human-animal hybrids.
Thus, we observed more “animal-tainted humans” rather than
true animal-human hybrids.
Although being often altered, the hands always kept their
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 161
role as an interface used to manipulate the world. In the vast
majority of the cases, the modifications of the hands only con-
sisted of a reduction in the number of fingers. An opposable
thumb was almost always present. In the most extreme cases,
for instance when the hands were replaced by claws, the capac-
ity to manipulate was nearly intact. The claws of Scorpia
(She-Ra universe’s woman-scorpion hybrid) allowed her to
read a book, and the claws of the crab-men (New He-Man set-
ting) allowed them to tie a rope (Season 1 Episode 22 “The
Island”) or to hold a sword (Season 1 Episode 25 “The Council
of Evil Part 1”). Extremely few hybrids had non-functional
hands (for instance, Leech in New He-Man Season 2 Episode 9
“The Power of Grayskull” and in the She-Ra setting, or the
spawns of Webstor in New He-Man Season 2 Episode 2 “Web
of Evil”).
Different sub-types of human-animal hybrids followed more
specific patterns. Supplementary limbs were mostly found for
human-invertebrate hybrids. In the case of human-bird hybrids,
the wings were almost never present instead of hands, but
rather in addition to hands (in all the hybrids we observed, only
one had wings instead of hands). When the wings were not
supplementary limbs, they typically grew out from the forearms,
leaving the hands free.
Human-reptile hybrids also followed a specific pattern of al-
terations, characterized by full phenotypic modifications and an
increased probability of displaying a tail. Interestingly, this
particular pattern can be observed in other science fiction and
fantasy settings, for instance in the Thunder Cats universe with
the reptilian “Slithe”, the brutish leader of the Plun-Darr mu-
tants (the first villains encountered in the 1985-1989 animated
series) or the Lizards (the race of lizard men of the 2011 series),
who are extremely comparable in appearance to the He-Man
Snake Men. In the world of role-playing games, the “Draco-
nians” and “Troglodytes” of the extremely popular settings of
the Forgotten Realms (the Dungeons and Dragons and Ad-
vanced Dungeons and Dragons family of role-playing games)
are other human-reptile hybrids exemplifying these particulari-
Shape Alterations
Although the global patterns of anatomical modifications
appear to be shared across the different science fiction and fan-
tasy settings we observed, the alterations of global body shape
seem to be specific to each particular setting.
For instance, the Star Wars setting seems to favour smaller
shapes for human-animal hybrids (a third of the hybrids ob-
served were shorter than a standard human). This particularity
extends further than just the human-animal hybrids, and may be
seen as a “trademark” of Star Wars humanoid creatures, as
observed in the original trilogy with the popular Ewoks (hu-
man-bear hybrids inhabiting the forest moon of Endor), or in
the Star Wars extended universe with for instance the Mrlssi
(human-bird hybrids inhabiting the planet Mrlsst in the Tapani
Sector). Similarly, other non human-animal hybrid aliens of the
Star Wars setting seem to share this shape alteration, for in-
stance the Jedi Grand Master Yoda, or even droids. Worthy of
note, one of the very few characters present in all of the six
movies of the two trilogies is the diminutive droid R2-D2.
Symmetrically, the setting of the planet Eternia in the
He-Man universe similarly favours a certain type of body shape
alteration for the human-animal hybrids (in this case, these
hybrids are often bigger and generally more muscular than the
average human of the related setting). Once again, this body
shape alteration seems to reflect a general trend of the setting,
as notably confirmed by the presence of giants (seen for in-
stance in Season 1 Episode 20 “Buzz Off’s Pride”, or in Season
1 Episode 25 and 26, “Council of Evil, Part 1” and “Council of
Evil, Part 2”).
This use of alterations of body shape conserved within a
given setting appears to be a factor of coherence. Creatures
with other shape alterations can of course exist (e.g., Wookiees
in Star Wars), but may look “out-of-place” in the given setting
(for instance, the Kaminoans seen in Episode II of Star Wars
display a combination of body shape alterations relatively un-
conventional for the Star Wars setting: tall and utterly thin, and
“alien-looking” to the Star Wars settings. This unconventional
appearance is reinforced by their distinctive architectural and
design style, contributing to the general role of an alien species
“isolated” from the main galactic influences). The degree of
conservation of shape alterations within a particular setting
could be seen as a degree of internal coherence of this setting.
Not surprisingly, specifically children-targeted settings such as
He-Man present a higher conservation of the patterns of shape
alterations, allowing for an easier immediate identification and
Gender Differences
While human-animal hybrids were a common sight in all of
the three science fiction and fantasy settings we studied, female
human-animal hybrids were surprisingly extremely rare. Fe-
male hybrids were absent or almost absent from the first two
settings we studied. Even when looking at a specifically “fe-
male-enriched” setting, the proportion of females among hu-
man-animal hybrids hardly reached one fourth.
Female hybrids were not only much less common than male
hybrids, but also much less altered physically. Indeed, female
hybrids displayed far fewer modifications compared to a stan-
dard human than males, both in terms of morphological and
phenotypic alterations. In addition, alterations of shape were
extremely rare, regardless of the particular setting.
Conservation of female traits seems to be critical. Female
appearance may bear more constraints for identification; these
constraints seem to overpower the creative processes involved
in imagination. Similar higher conservation of female features
compared to male features has also been evidenced in virtual
spaces, through the existence of a compensatory phenomenon
between avatar appearance and naming (Guitton, 2010). While
there was no difference between male human and non-human
avatars, non-human female avatars enriched their names with
“female features” to “compensate” for the departure of their
appearance from a standard human female by hyper-feminiza-
tion of their name (Guitton, 2010). From an evolutionary per-
spective, the “natural” appearance of the human female body
could have more meaning than we thought.
While the repetition of the results over three different inde-
pendent settings seem to indicate that the conclusions could be
reasonably generalised, there are still some limitations to this
study. First, these three settings may reflect some cultural bias.
We choose science fiction and fantasy setting to avoid such bias
as much as possible. Second, the role of the expectations of the
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 163
audience should not be underestimated when considering a
popular science fiction or fantasy setting. However, it is impor-
tant to note that this is true too for mythological systems and
folkloric tales. Third, one may argue that the observed con-
straints may be related to commercial issues: most of these
visual fictional settings are accompanied by products to be sold
as toy lines. Humanoid figurines would be easier to sell due to
customer identification process. However, examples taken from
toy history of the He-Man franchise seem to contradict this
hypothesis. Indeed, humanoid figurines extremely far from
standard human template (such as the multi-limbed demon
“Modulok”) or even purely non-articulated animals (such as the
Gringer/Battle Cat toy) were extremely popular and sold very
well, despite being actually far more expensive than the stan-
dard toys of the line.
By combining cultural anthropology and anatomical ap-
proaches, this study enabled us to unveil some of the funda-
mental cognitive mechanisms underlying human imagination
process. Studying science fiction and fantasy settings allowed
us to pin-point some psychological determinants defining the
imaginary coherent universes. The process of generation of
human-animal hybrids is not random, but follows constraining
rules, which are shared across settings. The high degree of
conservation of human features, particularly for female hybrids,
as well as the presence of repeated patterns of anatomical al-
terations, suggests the existence of constraining cognitive mod-
els of how living organisms should look like. This importance
of human morphotype echoes the trends observed in virtual
communities in which social organization depend on the degree
of proximity of the avatars to human standard appearance (Lor-
tie & Guitton, 2011). The present study cannot decipher
whether the constraining rules observed are conscious or un-
conscious, or biological or cultural. However, it clearly demon-
strates the existence of strong cognitive templates which frame
and limit the expression of the capacity of human imagination.
The present work was supported by the Natural Sciences and
Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC—grant
number 371644). MJG holds a Career Grant from the “Fonds
de la Recherche en Santé du Québec” (FRSQ).
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