Tuesday, 11 June 2013

LEGO figures are getting angrier

Nevermind increasingly violent video games or the ever-present danger of an uncensored internet, a far more insidious and unexpected change is afoot that could be affecting our children's emotional development. Researchers have discovered that the faces on LEGO Minifigures are becoming increasingly angry and less happy. Combined with a trend towards more combat-related LEGO themes, a team led by Christoph Bartneck at the University of Canterbury said "we cannot help but wonder how ... this impacts how children play."

The influence of LEGO is immense. The product is sold in more than 130 countries and the company produced more than 36 billion bricks in 2010 alone. The researchers state that on average each person on earth owns approximately 75 bricks.

Standing exactly four bricks high, the LEGO Minifigure was launched in 1975 with a standard enigmatic smile and yellow skin. In 1989, different facial expressions appeared; different skin colours debuted in 2003; and in 2010 the Minifigures started to be sold independently of other LEGO sets. Around 4 billion Minifigures have been sold worldwide.

Bartneck obtained images of all 3655 Minifigure types manufactured by LEGO between 1975 and 2010. The 628 different heads on these figures were then shown to 264 adult participants recruited via Amazon's Mechanical Turk online survey website. The participants' task was to categorise the emotions on the heads in terms of the six main human emotions, and to rate their intensity.

There was ambiguity in the faces - each received an average of 3.9 emotion labels. Looking at historical trends - there was a massive increase in the variety of emotional expressions from early 1990s onwards, a process that continued up to 2010. The vast majority of figures have happy faces (324), but the next most common is angry (192), followed by sadness (49), disgust (28), surprise (23) and fear (11). And the trend is for an increasing proportion of angry faces, with a concomitant reduction in happy faces.

The presence of a body changed the way faces were perceived in different ways depending on the emotion in question. For instance, a body tended to increase ratings for anger and happiness but reduce ratings for disgust and sadness. Skin colour made no difference.

Bartneck's team also observed that "LEGO has a considerable array of weapon systems in their program" and that the company "is moving towards more conflict based play themes." Together with the rising prevalence of angry faces, the researchers warned that LEGO "might not be able to hold onto its highly positive reputation. The children that grow up with LEGO today will remember not only smileys, but also anger and fear in the Minifigures' faces."

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

C Bartneck, M Obaid, & K Zawieska (2013). Agents with faces - What can we learn from LEGO Minifigures? [pdf] Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on Human-Agent Interaction (iHAI 2013), Sappor, Japan. ht @jonmsutton

--Further reading--
When psychologists become builders ... Where psychology and LEGO intersect
Mother-toddler play-time is more interactive and educational with old-fashioned toys
Live animals versus fancy toys - which do toddlers prefer?

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.
Image credit Jon Sutton

11 comments:

  1. Could it be the end of the LEGO of innocence?

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  2. Anonymous12:55 am

    Who...cares...?

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  3. Sometimes a toy is just a toy and not a mirror of the changing attitudes of the greater society.

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  4. It's likely just a sign of the times given the huge shifts in policies at home with regards to healthcare, taxes, etc, combined with wars abroad.

    & unless we have research showing that "angry" legos affect children in a measurably worse way than "happy" legos, I'm unsure that this is all that meaningful.

    Especially considering what we all know - kids are different - you can give a "happy" lego to one kid who will use it to imitate a gun with "bang bang" sounds followed by your dead. You can then give an "angry" lego to another kid and they could take care of it as if it were alive, talking to it, laughing with it - never knowing that scowl was borne out of conflict.

    Or as others said better than I - a toy is a toy & who cares.

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    1. "It's likely just a sign of the times given the huge shifts in policies at home with regards to healthcare, taxes, etc, combined with wars abroad."

      Yes, because the political makeup of Denmark has changed so much since 1975... Wait, what?

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  5. Anonymous2:01 pm

    Many years ago when Star Wars I the Phantom Menace came out, my son asked me not to buy him any more Star Wars figurines. He'd grown up on Star Wars, and had collected hundreds of figurines over the years, so I was surprised that he didn't want the new series as part of his collection. I asked him why. His response was that the new figures "just look too mean." I hadn't looked at them closely enough to notice, but I did after he said that and, indeed, where the original Star Wars had characters who had a soft look to them even when they were angry, the new series of characters just looked plain mean. What is especially noticeable is Yoda. You can always tell when you see a Yoda that was created after the original series because Yoda's face is so mean-looking-- and he was supposed to an endearing figure in the original series. Sad. So sad. But what's most saddening is that there must be a lot of angry young artists who are creating these new figurines. Otherwise, they would have kept the soft nuances in the characters' expressions.

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  6. I agree with anonymous at 2.01. Our son developed a strange 'grrr' and temper issues after being exposed to Angry Birds on the ipad - I think it definitely filters through!

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  7. Anonymous5:50 pm

    What an absolute joke. What fool takes this shit seriously?

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  8. I appreciate your article pinpointing a change in the features of mini figures by Lego. As a mother and teacher I notice very much the plasticity of young minds and how much I can help direct them towards positive feelings and behaviour at critical moments. It's no secret how impressionable human minds are.

    In addition a 10 day Vipassana retreat revealed just how powerful past messages directed to my own unconscious are. I spent the first 6 days just cleaning them out! The last few days were bliss thankfully.

    Both marketing and the military deliberately influence human psychology. When the 2 merge in my child's toy box I need to know. Not to be paranoid but to balance if needed and to quietly observe.I have noticed with disappointment the overemphasis on shootem up on the Lego site. So instead I chose Minecraft Creative above such games.

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  9. The research dips into the absurd, but I can believe the figures are becoming angrier. It is likely a reflection of the negative social mood and will reverse when mood changes. Social mood likely affects how children develop, which is why there is the historical pattern of 4 generations reflected in the works of Strauss & Howe, and also in ancient Chinese sayings such as "wealth does not pass the third generation." Socionomics Alert: Brazil on Fire! And Angry Legos!

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  10. Hahaha, You are very funny mate, any picture that have good expression like that Angry LEGO?

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