London - From Captain Hook to Dick Dastardly and Cruella De Vil, their faces portray evil.
Now scientists have worked out what scares us most about a cartoon baddie – their pointy chin.
Warwick University researchers found a downward pointing triangle can make us feel threatened in the same way as an angry face. They believe it is no coincidence the ultimate baddies often have a sinister sharp chin and eyebrows sloping towards a downward point in the middle.
Thirty volunteers were asked to rate hundreds of pictures of faces appearing on a screen as good or bad, kind or cruel, pleasant or unpleasant.
Each picture was flanked by a large picture of a triangle on each side, which, without the participants’ knowledge, worked as a “distractor”.
When a face was surrounded by downward pointing triangles, people were slower to identify it as positive and quicker to identify it as negative.
By contrast, left and right pointing triangles had no effect at all on the results, and upwards pointing triangles had a slight positive effect.
It is known from previous studies that people pick negative faces – such as sad or angry expressions – out of a crowd more quickly than positive ones.
Dr Derrick Watson, of the psychology department, said simple geometric shapes have an emotional effect on us, as they “carry the features present within negative or positive faces”. He added: “Our study shows downward pointing triangles in particular convey negative emotions and we can pick up on them quickly and perceive them as a threat.”
This is the first time this link has been made, although previous research has shown angular lines are seen as negative.
Co-author Dr Elisabeth Blagrove said: “If we look at cartoon characters the classic baddie will often be drawn with the evil eyebrows that come to a downward point in the middle.
“This could go some way to explain why we associate the downward pointing triangle with negative faces.”
The study is published in the journal Emotion, published by the American Psychological Association. - Daily Mail