Lego faces are getting more pissed off, study says

As the years have passed, the faces of Lego people have trended toward becoming more angry, according to a study that tracked Lego expressions over time.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
2 min read
Lego orcs
These Lego orcs look pretty angry. Lego

The classic Lego person is a happy creature, sporting a smile on its barrel-shaped yellow face. These are the Lego people I grew up with. They all looked pretty thrilled to be little Lego beings. But times have changed. There are Lego battles to be fought and Lego foes to struggle against. It's starting to look more like "Game of Thrones" than "My Little Pony" in the Lego world these days.

Researchers from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and the Industrial Research Institute for Automation and Measurements in Poland investigated the faces of Lego minifigs made between 1975 and 2010. First, the study notes a dramatic increase in the variety of facial expressions starting in 1989. "The two most frequent expressions are happiness and anger and the proportion of happy faces is decreasing over time," the study's abstract reads.

An online questionnaire answered by 264 adult participants was used to rate the expressions of hundreds of minifigs. What was uncovered was an increase in angry faces. The study traces some of this increase to the popularity of themed Lego sets:

We have to consider this distribution of faces across emotional categories in the context of the Lego themes. After all, most Minifigures are released in sets that belong to a certain theme, such as Pirates or Harry Potter. It is our impression that the themes have been increasingly based on conflicts. Often a good force is struggling with a bad one. May it be the good knights against the skeleton warriors or the space police against alien criminals. 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.

The study leaves us with an open question about what sort of impact the growth in conflict-based Lego characters might have on children's play. The authors also acknowledge that this trend might be necessary for the toy company to maintain its place in the market and meet customer demand.

"The children that grow up with Lego today will remember not only smileys, but also anger and fear in the Minifigures' faces," reads the conclusion. It does recommend that toy designers take care in creating expressions and test the effect of the designs on children. What do you think? Are Lego toys becoming too negative?

(Via The Guardian)