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Evil eyebrows and pointy chin of a cartoon villain make our ‘threat’ instinct kick in

Date:
May 29, 2012
Source:
University of Warwick
Summary:
Why do the evil eyebrows and pointy chin of a cartoon villain make our 'threat' instinct kick in? Psychologists have found that a downward pointing triangle can be perceived to carry threat just like a negative face in a crowd.

Triangular-shaped face. Psychologists have found that a downward pointing triangle can be perceived to carry a threat.
Credit: Viktor Kuryan / Fotolia

New research from the University of Warwick could explain why the evil eyebrows and pointy chin of a cartoon villain make our 'threat' instinct kick in.

Psychologists have found that a downward pointing triangle can be perceived to carry threat just like a negative face in a crowd.

In a paper published in Emotion, a journal of the American Psychological Association, Dr Derrick Watson and Dr Elisabeth Blagrove have carried out a series of experiments with volunteers to find out if simple geometric shapes can convey positive or negative emotions.

Previous research by these scientists showed that people could pick out a negative face in a crowd more quickly than a positive or neutral face and also that it was difficult to ignore faces in general. The researchers carried out a series of experiments asking volunteers to respond to computer-generated images. They were shown positive, negative and neutral faces, and triangles facing upwards, downwards, inward and outward. This latest study shows that downward triangles are detected just as quickly as a negative face.

Dr Watson said: "We know from previous studies that simple geometric shapes are effective at capturing or guiding attention, particularly if these shapes carry the features present within negative or positive faces."

"Our study shows that downward pointing triangles in particular convey negative emotions and we can pick up on them quickly and perceive them as a threat."

Dr Blagrove added: "If we look at cartoon characters, the classic baddie will often be drawn with the evil eyebrows that come to a downward point in the middle. This could go some way to explain why we associate the downward pointing triangle with negative faces. These shapes correspond with our own facial features and we are unconsciously making that link."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Warwick. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Derrick G. Watson, Elisabeth Blagrove, Chesney Evans, Lucy Moore. Negative triangles: Simple geometric shapes convey emotional valence.. Emotion, 2012; 12 (1): 18 DOI: 10.1037/a0024495

Cite This Page:

University of Warwick. "Evil eyebrows and pointy chin of a cartoon villain make our ‘threat’ instinct kick in." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 May 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120529074617.htm>.
University of Warwick. (2012, May 29). Evil eyebrows and pointy chin of a cartoon villain make our ‘threat’ instinct kick in. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120529074617.htm
University of Warwick. "Evil eyebrows and pointy chin of a cartoon villain make our ‘threat’ instinct kick in." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120529074617.htm (accessed July 24, 2014).

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