Now isn’t this interesting! As my readers might know, I love experiments – even when they are tight and tiny samples of the type we experience in daily life. Here’s a fun one that just occurred to me, post hoc, that leads me to think we might like pictures of avatars smiling more than avatars making other facial expressions.
Many of the comments associated with this meme from bloggers and photographers suggested that we tend not to like the look of smiles on our avatars – the word “creepy” gets used a lot. Yet, very few people seem to question why – unlike in the real world – we don’t like to see each other smile in the virtual world.
Universally, smiles are associated with pleasure, sociability, happiness, and amusement – all good things. There is evidence to suggest that smiles make one more likable and more approachable. In some cases, a smile can be an advertisement of sexual interest. Again, all good things! 🙂
Perhaps what puts people off is the lack of lines that tend to surround the corners of our eyes (a Duchenne smile) when we are genuinely smiling, which is a dead give away for the kind of pasted-on smile we might share when we’re not really smiling, or have overindulged in botox. Still, most people would agree that the first of these following emoticons is overwhelmingly more popular than the others:
🙂 😦 😕
Maybe it’s the falseness of the teeth, in all their ultra-bright and rectangular glory? It’s true, Second Life avatar teeth would do with a more realistic representation – something I can’t imagine would be impossible to make more lifelike. On the other hand, maybe it’s the “uncanny valley”, a hypothesis in the field of aesthetics which holds that when features look and move almost, but not exactly, like natural beings, it causes a response of revulsion among some observers.
Whatever the reasons, I’ve long shared the hypothesis that people tend to like neutral (emotionless) or pouty facial expressions on our avatars, which supports the ubiquitousness of the seemingly bored, gloomy, and emotionless facial expression on much of my Flickr Feed.
At the time of this measurement the results are as follows:
To my surprise, the photo of me smiling was the most favourited – both in volume and in proportion of views. Could we like pictures of smiling avatars more than we say we do?
I considered any artefacts that may have crept into my analysis. There are some angle differences in the pictures, but generally there isn’t much change from picture to picture (except for the frame around and name under my final shot). I’m measuring the proportion of favourites, as opposed to total favourites, so this measurement wouldn’t be influenced by picture differences, online longevity or time of upload.
Another difference was that I submitted my final smiling photo to Berry’s Meme groups – perhaps people there are more favourable – still, it’s the proportions that matter, not the actual favourites. Also, I’m not seeing a significant difference in proportion of favourites I get from this photo, when compared to other photos on my Flickr feed that were not submitted to these groups.
One other issue that might be screwing with my results is that Flickr presents multiple uploads with one picture as the lead, and the rest inset – which might cause the first of the five rejects to be more favourited, because it’s more highly exposed. Again, though, analysing proportions would outweigh these issue, because it’s based on the number of raw views.
Still another issue might be that my smiling avatar was “on target” with the meme’s instructions, and therefore qualified as “correct”, meriting more favourites per view. There might be a similar effect due to my naming some pictures as “rejects”, with the most favourited one not a reject. Despite these possible artefacts, it’s certainly clear that people didn’t like my angry face, preferring my static face as the favourite among the rejects. Whilst not massively significant, it’s interesting to see that my cross-eyed face won over my sad face (marginally), and that my angry face won over my worried face (which was the least liked).
I’m keen to try more Flickr experiments like this – and next time, I’ll aim to wash away the nasty artefacts the might unduly influence my results. What do you think of these results? Do you agree or disagree that we might actually like smiley avatars more than not? What implications might this have for animators and mesh head makers? What does this say about High Fidelity’s plans to dynamically match facial expressions to our own for their virtual world? What other experiments would you like to see?