Christian Jarrett at the excellent BPS Research Digest reports on an ingenious but depressing study of the world’s most popular toy. Researchers have studied the facial experessions of lego mini-figures and found that they are getting angrier, while the themes are become more ‘conflict based’.
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.
Bartnecks 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.”
Of course it is not just anger but a whole range of emotions that are being portrayed and that might not be a bad thing.
It’s also likely that LEGO is becoming a lot more gender specific. A disturbing trend from a toy which has traditionally been one of the least stereotyping in land of the blue and pink plastic.
But the most mind-boggling stat for me is that around 4 billion Minifigures have been sold worldwide. since lego is practically indestructible, there will come a point in the next few decades when there are more lego people than living people.
Original Research Article:
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)