Dr. Christoph Bartneck — a robot expert at New Zealand’s University of Caterbury — has been studying Lego figures for several years now (he says he’s a big fan..) and concludes the following:
The number of happy faces on LEGO toy mini-figures is decreasing and the number of angry faces is increasing..
Bartneck notes the significance of his study by regarding the impact angry-faced Legos will undoubtedly have on children that play with them:
“It is important to study how to create appropriate expressions and how these expressions are perceived by the users. Children’s toys and how they are perceived can have a significant impact on children,’’ Dr Bartneck says.
“It is our impression that the themes have been increasingly based on conflicts. Often a good force is struggling with a bad one.
“But the facial expressions are not directly matched to good and evil. Even the good characters suffer in their struggle and the villains can have a smug expression. In any case, the variety of faces has increased considerably.’’
His paper will be presented later this summer in Japan, but the draft version details the way the study was conducted, along with the findings:
— “We photographed all the 3,655 Minifigures that were released between 1975 and 2010. We identified 628 different heads and cut them out from the photographs. …
— “We created an online questionnaire that showed all the 628 heads and the 94 Minifigures. The  participants were asked to rate the emotional expression. …
— “We asked participants to give one rating on one of the six scales that were labeled: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise.”
— 324 faces were rated as showing “happiness.”
— 192 reflected “anger.”
— 49 showed “sadness.”
— 28 seemed to show “disgust.”
— 23 were classified under “surprise.”
— 11 registered as “fear.”
The company that manufactures the toy — The Lego Group — delivered a statement to the Guardian in response to the study:
Roar Rude Trangbæk, communications manager for Lego, said every toy developed by the manufacturer was tested by a range of expert children, while child psychiatrists, parents and teachers were also consulted. Research conducted for the company found that children, especially boys, enjoyed playing out conflicts between characters, he said. “The conflict between good and evil is nothing new,” said Trangbæk. “But the characters always have classic Lego humour – the good guys always win in the end.”
Trangbæk would not comment on Bartneck’s research directly but added that there was a solution for parents worried about the impact of angry Lego figure faces. “Of course, they can always just switch heads with another figure,” he said.
(Photo by flickr user Anssi Koskinen)