Lego Minifigures Grumpier Since 1980: Study

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Christoph Bartneck is researching Lego's minifigures. Image: University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand

Christoph Bartneck is researching Lego’s minifigures. Image: University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand

Has Lego gotten grumpier?

A new study says that the faces on Lego minifigures have become less happy and more often mad or sad.

The study was designed to find out if the Lego characters have become grumpier over the years.

Christoph Bartneck works at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. He loves Lego and even worked for the company in the 1990s. He worked with another researcher on the project.

They looked at all of the 6,000 figures made between 1975 and 2010.

They made a note of each figure’s facial expression: happy, angry, afraid, disgusted, surprised or sad.

They discovered that while in 1980, all of the figures were described as “smiley,” by 1990, only about 80 per cent of them were “smiley.” And by 2010, just 50 per cent of the figures had a smile on their little plastic faces.

The researchers are wondering how the increasingly sad, angry and unhappy faces on the Lego figurines will affect the children who play with them.

“Children’s toys and how they are perceived can have a significant impact on children,” said Dr. Bartneck in a media release on the university’s website.

While Lego hasn’t issued an official response to the study, Bartneck said he thinks the reason Lego is producing angrier-faced characters is because customers want them. He said it’s likely that people want Lego characters that have different expressions, rather than just being sunny all the time. He said most of the unhappy faces are on characters based on a specific theme such as Harry Potter or pirates.

Bartneck will present his findings at the First International Conference on Human-Agent Interaction in Sapporo, Japan in August.

CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS
By Kathleen Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
Why do you think Christoph Bartneck decided to study Lego faces?

What do you think about his study? Does it change how you think about Lego? Do you think Lego will change the facial expressions because of this study?

Reading Prompt: Demonstrating Understanding
If you had to describe a Lego face to someone who didn’t know what Lego was, how would you describe it? What adjectives would you use?

Primary
Demonstrate understanding of a variety of texts by identifying important ideas and some supporting details (OME, Reading: 1.4).

Junior
Demonstrate understanding of a variety of texts by summarizing important ideas and citing supporting details (OME, Reading: 1.4).

Grammar Feature: Synonym
Synonyms are different words that have similar meanings. For example, a synonym for “exited” is “enthusiastic”.

Think of synonyms for the following words that people used to describe Lego faces:
1. smiley
2. angry
3. sad
4. unhappy
5. afraid
6. surprised