Are Lego Faces Really Getting Angrier?

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
June 11 2013 3:32 PM

Are Lego Faces Really Getting Angrier?

Lego heads.
Lego heads

Photo by Holly Allen

Think back on your experiences with Lego men and Lego women. Probably you have happy memories of the time you spent with those tiny figures (official name: Minifigures) with yellow faces (or, if you’ve played with Lego toys in the past decade, faces of many colors). But a new study reports an ominous finding. “The children that grow up with Lego today will remember not only smileys, but also anger and fear in the Minifigures’ faces.”

David Haglund David Haglund

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog.

Is that such a bad thing? The people behind the study—a team of researchers led by Christoph Bartneck of the University of Canterbury—“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,” who labeled “the emotions on the heads in terms of the six main human emotions.”


Their findings? While the “vast majority” have happy faces, “the trend is for an increasing proportion of angry faces, with a concomitant reduction in happy faces,” as Christian Jarrett explains in his summary of the study for Research Digest. Hence the researchers’ concern about our children’s futures. They connect this finding with the “considerable array of weapon systems” that are now part of the Lego family, with the toys “moving towards more conflict based play themes.”

Less trumpeted is the fact that each face “received an average of 3.9 emotion labels,” i.e., there was a lot of disagreement about what each face was communicating. And no surprise. Just look at the faces above (assembled by the son of one of my Slate colleagues, a Lego face enthusiast)! The real lesson here, I think, is that today’s children are growing up at a time of unparalleled Lego diversity. (Many of the faces have two different expressions, printed on opposite sides.)

And there’s at least one bit of indisputable good news in the research team’s findings. While attaching the faces to “a body tended to increase ratings for anger and happiness but reduce ratings for disgust and sadness,” skin color “made no difference.”

Watch Slate's Occupy Lego parody: 


The World

The Budget Disaster that Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

Are the Attacks in Canada a Sign of ISIS on the Rise in the West?

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

Is It Offensive When Kids Use Bad Words for Good Causes?

Fascinating Maps Based on Reddit, Craigslist, and OkCupid Data


The Real Secret of Serial

What reporter Sarah Koenig actually believes.


The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

In Praise of 13th Grade: Why a Fifth Year of High School Is a Great Idea

Can Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu Pull Off One More Louisiana Miracle?

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 23 2014 1:51 PM Is This the ISIS Backlash We've Been Waiting For?
Business Insider
Oct. 23 2014 2:36 PM Take a Rare Peek Inside the Massive Data Centers That Power Google
Atlas Obscura
Oct. 23 2014 1:34 PM Leave Me Be Beneath a Tree: Trunyan Cemetery in Bali
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
Oct. 23 2014 1:46 PM The Real Secret of Serial Has Sarah Koenig made up her mind yet? 
Oct. 23 2014 11:45 AM The United States of Reddit  How social media is redrawing our borders. 
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 23 2014 7:30 AM Our Solar System and Galaxy … Seen by an Astronaut
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.