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  • Oliver Lavender

PMI100 Psychology of the Moving Image - Assessment 1

Updated: Nov 3, 2021

Emotional Recognition Experiment: Animation

The blue triangle pushes the pink triangle into the corner
Animation 2 Screen Capture

Media Psychology Theory Research

At a fundamental level, media psychology is important to me as media creator because it helps me understand my audience. If I am able to understand how an audience feels about the media I create, then I can continue to refine and iterate my ideas and communicate more effectively with said audience. I can learn to appeal to their needs and desires - 'manipulating’ their deeply rooted psychological responses (just as I do in graphic design) to illicit strong emotional reactions, that further reenforce story and narrative. This process is cyclical and each iteration of testing and measurement creates a stronger bond between the creators intention and the viewers understanding (perception).

Trying to understand audiences across any media, has been both welcomed and resisted from the beginning of the modern media (Napoli, 2010). Some creatives see this as an affront to their “artistic endeavours” and claim it “muzzled(s) innovation”, while most analysts see the commercial viability of gathering audience research as an extremely helpful tool in making decisions for future media 'products'.

The solid triangle gets the ball stuck on his nose
Animation 1 Screen Capture

Understanding of Media Psychology

The field of media psychology is vast to put it mildly. One could spend an entire lifetime of study, investigating every aspect, tumbling down every rabbit hole, only to have scratched the surface of how humans interact with media, the way it affects our behaviour and its impacts on society as a whole. Rapid advances in technology have drastically increased humanities access to media, most notably with the rise of the smartphone. High speed data transfer coupled with cloud computing, gigantic servers and streaming services dominate today's media landscape. This acceleration of media consumption has fundamentally changed the way we engage and interact with traditional and new media whilst simultaneously altering our behaviour in surprising and profound ways.

Universal Principles of design are important to animation just as they are to many other disciplines. We use these universal principles and symbology to communicate effectively to our audience. This serves as a design language which has been inherently learned and reinforced over time. There are many other behavioural effects at play in media from classical and operant conditioning to the mere-exposure effect. They are to many and various to discuss here.

My understanding of Gestalt Theory is that it mainly concerns Unified Wholes and Relationships as its core focus. We don’t see individual visual elements in isolation, we see them grouped together in “whole sets” or perhaps in their simplest form. We don’t see wheels, axels, a driveshaft, an engine, the chases and so on. We see a car first and then we see (or at least conceptualise) these individual ‘parts’.

I have through various endeavors, interacted with holistic principles in many disciplines, from Permaculture design to Holistic Management to Music Theory and Audio Engineering. There is a phrase which rings true for all of them: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This phrase, I believe, truly embodies the theories of Gestalt Psychology…

… But I have spoken to soon!! As it turns out that my favourite quote is actually a mistranslation from German! The proper translation is:

“The whole is something else from the sum of its parts”,

Which implies a different meaning from the common interpretation. On reflection, I think both are valid ways of viewing and explaining the world. It takes the sum of parts to create the whole, which is what we see at the simplest level. One could then argue that the whole is therefore a greater symbolic representation than “it’s” parts. For the counter argument: Why is the whole greater (better or worse) than the sum of "its" parts? It is only different. No one part is entitled any greater or lessor status than the whole, it is only different from the whole.

This thought (experiment?) reminds me of McLuhan’s idea that:

The medium is the message.

The message/object/situation/content etc stay the same - it is the context that changes. If you take a newspaper and print it in the form of a hardback novel, what has changed? Is it the way we interact with it? The way in which we consume it? Perhaps most importantly, does the medium change the character of the message and visa versa?

“Iconic Memory allows us to perceive the world as a fluid experience. Its not fragmented”
“Looking isn’t the same as seeing. You have to focus attention onto something in order to become aware of it.” (Simons, 2011)

In the case of Change Blindness, these very small changes, especially in our environment are very rarely important to us in so far as our survival instincts are concerned - which are instead focused on the larger changes in our environment - such as a bus hurtling towards you while standing on a street corner.

You were too busy concentrating on the bus to notice the advertisement on the rolling display in the bus shelter had changed at the same moment.

We can’t possibly perceive everything at once. We take in the world around us and assess what is important to us and parse this information in a series of complicated ways (which I can’t even begin to comprehend) inside the brain. The ways in which we can measure our change blindness, reaction time and other such memory/perception oriented functions is discussed in Kestutis Kveraga’s (Various) book Scene Vision: Making Sense of What We See (Kveraga, 2014).

Key Frames for the Main Comp

Media Psychology Theory and Scenario

From the outset I was inspired by the concepts of Working Memory limit and Heider Capacity. The working limit of 3 objects (Wick, 2019) was the basis and the starting point of my animation. Knowing that “Our capacity to hold and manipulate novel information is incredibly limited, like when trying to remember a string of random numbers.” (Veritasium, 2017)

I decided to restrict the amount of objects in my scene and create “chunks” of narrative, that the audience would be able to easily commit to working memory. I also tried to use each shape only once and restrict each objects movement to “one at a time” where possible, so as to focus the audience's eye.

I was interested in Feminist Theory as a way to represent the identity of the characters. If the characters were imbued with masculine movements and behaviours, I thought it may help to establish the narrative further. Gender Performativity could also be grouped in with this approach.

Continuing with the feminist theory concept - In animation B I have chosen to use colour as my modifier. I have assigned the colour Pink to the stoke triangle and the colour Blue to the filled triangle. I was interested to see if the audience view the shapes differently with this change.

Will they view the pink stroked triangle as a girl and the bold blue triangle as a boy? (Frassanito, 2008) Will it change the way they interpret the objects actions, movements and apparent behaviours?

My prediction is YES.

By showing the neutral version (black and white) first and the colour version (Pink, Blue and White on Back) second, I believe I will be able to determine a change through the possessive pronouns the test subjects use to describe the objects in the narrative.

Reception Theory (Stuart Hall) has also played into my thinking for my hypothesis and animation. The characters should portray the producers dominant ideology. In this case: possession, confrontation and reconciliation. The audience is then able to choose how they engage and negotiate with the animation.

Structure was important. My narrative needed to have a setup, a conflict and a resolution.

A three act structure in the simplest of terms. This comes back to the idea of “chunking” and the audience's ability to remember the chain of events.

I also tried to use themes of aggression, fear, sadness, compassion and forgiveness. These are universally understood (I assume!) and I picked them in the hope that I would be able to communicate my narrative intentions more effectively.

In creating this animation, I decided to focus on producing a narrative that felt instinctive.

I didn’t storyboard the animation or even plan beyond the main concept of children fighting over a ball. I simply tried to impart my feelings of apparent behaviour onto the objects provided. I wanted to anthropomorphize these shapes with the same behaviours I felt I would exhibit given the same situation.

On analysing the completed animation I realised it conformed to several Gestalt principles. I will list each one with an accompanying reasoning of how I feel these specific principles relate to the animation.

Principle of Proximity - The shapes interact with the ball separately and together at different points in time, signifying possession and ownership. They also interact with each other and static objects which helps to establish orientation and comprehension of the scene.

Principle of Similarity - Certain objects in the animation share contrast or shape values. Triangles represent people, circles represent balls, lines represent walls etc.

Principle of Gold Continuation - The walls in the composition act as a barrier to the object's potential movements. The way the objects move also adhere to directional logic with the same point or 'face' of the triangle always facing forward, in the direction of movement. The movements are organic and follow a perceived sense of direction and destination.

Common Fate and Motion - The objects in the animation move with the balls and in context with each other. The lines remain static, inferring inanimateness.

Apparent Behaviour - The objects appear to behave in a human fashion. Reacting as though they have emotions. These emotions and apparent behaviours, link together to tell a story.

Value graph in after effects for the main comp

Media Psychology Theory Hypothesis

On the most simplistic level I predict the audience will understand that the objects are possibly children, fighting over a ball. The ball gets stuck on one objects “nose” and one object helps the other to get it off. Both objects make up and run off playing together.

If the audience is able to fully comprehend my “reception theory” so to speak, I will predict the audience are able to comprehend a story where a child (stroke triangle) is playing alone with a ball. Another child (bold triangle) enters the scene, becomes envious of the first child’s ball and then threatens and attacks the younger child, taking possession of the ball by force. The first child runs away and is sad. The older child begins to play with the ball and over confidently gets it stuck on its pointy triangle “nose”. The younger child then compassionately helps the older child remove the ball and they make up or “reconcile” and run off happily playing with each other.

I believe the audience will identify both triangles as male in animation A and I believe the audience will see the pink triangle as a girl and the blue triangle as a boy in animation 2. I predict this may intensify the comprehension of the bully / victim relationship.

My hypothesis is based of the bias we humans have for the colours pink and blue and their relationship and associations to male and female sex (Frassanito, 2008).

In regards to emotions I hope the audience will empathise with at least one of the characters feelings of, excitement, envy, greed, fear, anger, sadness, aggression, remorse and acceptance. (hopefully in that order)

I also thought the guidelines used in the Heider Capacity paper were a good guide as to audience comprehension criteria for my animation:

“The guidelines provided to assess a fit were to assign a point for each of the following 6 criteria met: shapes could be identified based on the physical description, behaviours could be identified, narrative was “entertaining” (to avoid purely physical descriptive accounts), and the narrative did not contain specialised references (e.g. to pop culture). Points were given if narrative attributed emotions to shape and if the spatial structure and locations of shapes were described accurately.” (Wick, 2019)

What a ride that was, looking forward to seeing the results!

Animation 1 - Black and White

Animation 2 - Colour

Part 2 and results are HERE


Marsh, A. (2018). PMI100 ONLINE M1131 CRN 1933 [Course note slides]. Torrens University.

Dine, Y. S., & Young, S. D. (2012). Psychology at the movies. ProQuest Ebook Central

Kveraga, K., & Bar, M. (Eds.). (2014). Scene vision : Making sense of what we see. ProQuest Ebook Central

Veritasium. (2017, Mar 3). The Science of Thinking [Video]. YouTube.

Blacksmith Institute. (2011, Feb 15). The Invisible Gorilla (featuring Daniel Simons) [Video]. YouTube.

Philip M. Napoli. (2010). Audience Evolution : New Technologies and the Transformation of Media Audiences. Columbia University Press.

Wick, F. A., Alaoui Soce, A., Garg, S., Grace, R. C., & Wolfe, J. M. (2019). Perception in dynamic scenes: What is your Heider capacity?. Journal of experimental psychology. General, 148(2), 252–271.

Frassanito, Paolo & Pettorini, Benedetta. (2008). Pink and blue: The color of gender. Child's nervous system : ChNS : official journal of the International Society for Pediatric Neurosurgery. 24. 881-2. 10.1007/s00381-007-0559-3.

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