Lego minifigures may need an attitude adjustment

The toymaker is producing more tiny plastic people with angry faces. Could that have an effect on kids?

By Aimee Picchi Jun 12, 2013 11:51AM

Lego character (© Ron Buskirk/Alamy)If you've bought a Lego minifigure for a kid recently, chances are it has a bad attitude.

The Danish toymaker is producing more of the tiny plastic people that populate its sets with angry faces while creating fewer with happy expressions, according to a new research paper.

Lego has sold more than 4 billion figures since first producing them in 1975, and their early years were dominated by the same "enigmatic smile," the researchers note. That has changed in the past two decades, with the toymaker bringing out characters ranging from Star Wars characters like Yoda to Viacom's (VIA) SpongeBob SquarePants. 

As the types of figures have grown more varied, so have their expressions, according to the research paper, from Christoph Bartneck, a robot expert at New Zealand's University of Canterbury, and fellow researchers Karolina Zawieska and Mohammad Obaid. 

The team photographed the 3,655 minifigures released through 2010, identifying 628 different heads. They then asked the study's participants -- found through's (AMZN) Mechanical Turk service -- to rate the heads' expressions, voting on whether a figure's face illustrated anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness or surprise. 

The researchers found that over time, the number of happy faces has decreased, while the proportion of angry faces has grown. 

"We cannot help but wonder how the move from only positive faces to an increasing number of negative faces impacts how children play," the researchers wrote, adding that designers should test their toys' effects since they play a role in childhood development. 

Part of the reason for the increase in angry faces might be that Lego appears to be producing more themes based on conflicts, such as good knights fighting skeleton warriors, the paper points out. 

"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 researches noted. 

For Lego, the change may eventually tarnish its positive reputation, the authors pointed out. They wrote: "The children that grow up with Lego today will remember not only smileys, but also anger and fear in the Minifigures' faces."

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Jun 12, 2013 1:49PM

Well, there went a minute of my life I can't get back.  Next thing you know, people will be complaining about the anatomy of a Barbie doll. (dripping with sarcasm)

Jun 13, 2013 8:05AM
The mood of the country keeps getting worse, so the expressions are keeping pace.
Jun 12, 2013 7:43PM
Wow, okay. This is ridiculous. I have a feeling that the people who wrote this are the same people who believe that video games are making kids violent. Stop blaming your kid's issues on pop culture. Take responsibility as a parent.
Jun 13, 2013 11:16AM
The old nature vs nurture arguement. It's a lil bit of both.  I wonder if in the middle east the kids play with dolls that blow themselves up?
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