Lego characters are getting angrier – and could be harming children’s development

  • 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 

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 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,’ 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.

Lego is getting angrier  

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. 

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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