Casual Fridays: Does slantedness equal sadness?

Last week's Casual Friday study seemed like a great idea. Playing off the study we recently analyzed which revealed that the orientation of shapes could convey emotion, we thought we might be able to demonstrate a similar phenomenon with scenes.

Respondents were divided into three groups. Everyone saw the same three pictures, but each group saw them with a different amount of slant:


The first group saw the original, unaltered photos. The second group's photos were all slanted by 7 degrees. The third group's photos were slanted by 20 degrees. Each viewer rated each photo on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 was sad and 10 was happy. So, does slantedness of the photo affect the ratings?

With 263 responses, you might think if there was a significant effect of slantedness, we would have found it. However, even after averaging all the ratings for all the pictures together, we found no significant results:


The 7-degree slant rating was about .22 points lower than the no-slant rating, but this was not significant. We would have needed about three times as many responses to get a significant result (assuming the trend held).

Were viewers simply rating all the pictures the same? No, because individual pictures did receive different happiness/sadness ratings:


So, based on our results, it appears that the slantedness of a picture does not impact its happiness or sadness. Another possibility is that viewers recognized that slantedness was being manipulated, and so incorporated that into their responses. Did you suspect we were actually trying to measure the impact of slantedness? Do you have another explanation for the results? Let us know in the comments.

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I'd wonder the same thing as with the "scary music" item - are there life attitudes/experiences that in some cases just overwhelm the effect of the variable for which you're testing.

A major interest of mine is wilderness travel/camping, so both the lake and desert got quick 10's ... and the parking lot got an equally quick 5.

In other words, I don't see that my result added anything; in fact, it could be quite the opposite in that my result was just noise that (to a small degree) helped to mask any real effect.

By Scott Belyea (not verified) on 14 Apr 2006 #permalink

I agree with Scott Belyea. It was the content of the pictures that I was reacting to and not the composition or orientation of the image. The lake and the desert were of nature and nature generally makes me happy. Parking lots remind me of sprawl which makes me sad.

I realized slantedness was being manipulated, and it may have affected my responses. It also could be that the semantics of the scenes simply overpowered any effect of slant (the desert is a pretty sad place).

Perhaps they were seeing a different emotion than sadness or happiness, like drunkeness, or north by northwest style suspense.

I'd say the initial results and these comments probably suggest that a much more thorough study would be necessary, with dozens of different pictures and more different slants, and ratings across several different emotions, not just happy/sad. But of course, that's not something we could do on a Casual Friday, limited to a maximum of 5 questions.

I don't think it's very surprising that the slantedness of a landscape does not impact its happiness or sadness. It's a different thing with objects: If you see a tree that is slanted, you will probably experience the impression of sadness. I think it's basically some kind of animism. If you see the shape of a man that is slanted, he is probably sad. But if you see a landscape that is slanted, you are probably drunk. Thus, to obtain significant results, you should have asked: How drunk do you feel when looking at this picture? (It would have been a first step towards a new treatment of alcoholism. Alcoholics could get drunk by looking at slanted pictures without the adverse effects of alcohol abuse.)

Maybe sad-happy isn't the right dimension? In a theatre an angled set gives a more dynamic feel to the play than a set that is square on to the audience. Maybe something similar might apply with the angled pictures? Like calm-energetic?

By Mark Frank (not verified) on 18 Apr 2006 #permalink

Wife the artist says "of course the orientation of objects affects emotion, in art it is called composition, but the relationships of the objects in the landscape don't change in the slanted pictures so it won't have any different emotional impact", before I read the results. Boy, can she be right.

By bigring55t (not verified) on 19 Apr 2006 #permalink