- For the first 11 years after Lego was introduced, all characters were happy
- But angry characters were then introduced and over time, the proportion of angry faces has been rising, say New Zealand researchers
- Experts are questioning the impact of ‘angry’ toys on children
By Nicola Rowe
PUBLISHED: 10:54 EST, 12 June 2013 | UPDATED: 18:57 EST, 12 June 2013
Next time you settle down for a spot of Lego with your children, take a proper look at the faces on the figures.
Because while you may remember life in Legoland as being perfectly content, these day things are a little more fraught.
A study has revealed that the faces of Lego characters are getting angrier. In the past, they all had a standard enigmatic smile. But this has changed as more sets are designed to tie in with films, often featuring battles between good and evil.
Lego characters are slowly getting angrier, say researchers who found that since the product launched in 1975, the proportion of angry faces has been rising. For the first 11 years after Lego was introduced, all characters were happy
‘Lego themes have been increasingly based on conflicts [such as Pirates or Harry Potter]. Often a good force is struggling with a bad one,’ say the researchers
Christopher Bartneck, of New Zealand’s University of Canterbury, has published research showing that Lego characters are becoming more conflict-oriented, and the human figures featured in Lego sets are getting angrier.
The study found that Lego figures most frequently feature happy or angry expressions, but since their introduction in 1975, the proportion of angry faces has been rising.
The findings also raise questions about the role of the design of toys and its impact on children, say the researchers.
Previous research has shown that facial expressions are universal across languages and cultures, with the six most widely used being disgust, happiness, sadness, fear, anger and surprise.
There are fears that the move from only positive faces to an increasing number of negative faces impacts how children play
According to the study, ‘analysis shows that toy design has become a more complex design space in which the imaginary world of play does not only consist of a simple division of good versus evil, but a world in which heroes are scared and villains can have superior smile.’
However, it was the six most prominent facial expressions identified among Lego characters that are possible cause for concern: disdain, confidence, concern, fear, happiness, and anger.
It was only in the 1990s that Lego began to introduce a wider variety of facial expressions to characters. For the first 11 years, only one smiley face was produced.
Happiness and anger remain the most widely used, but now occur in greater range of intensity: Two distinct versions of both happiness and anger were found among the characters.
‘Lego themes have been increasingly based on conflicts [such as Pirates or Harry Potter]. Often a good force is struggling with a bad one,’ says Bartneck.
‘The facial expressions are not directly matched to good and evil. Even the good characters suffer in their struggle and the villians can have a smug expression. In any case, the variety of faces has increased considerably.’
‘We cannot help but wonder how the move from only positive faces to an increasing number of negative faces impacts how children play.
The new faces of Lego: disdain, confidence, concern, fear, happiness and anger
‘Designers of agent faces should take great care to design the expressions and to test their effect since toys play an important role in the development of children.’
‘Instead of focusing on highly realistic expressions, it may be worthwhile to increase the variability of expressions. A comic style expression is sufficient to convey a full spectrum of emotions and intensities.’
Bartneck will present the paper on his findings at the First International Conference on Human-Agent Interaction in Sapporo, Japan, in August.
The Danish company Lego is one of the biggest toy manufacturers in the world, and produced more that 36 billion bricks distributed to 130 countries in 2010 alone, equivalent to 75 bricks each for everyone on Earth
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