Thursday, 8 September 2011

Emotion Dice

In Amsterdam this summer I picked up a pair of these dice that are meant to teach kids about emotional expressions. What a great way to mingle gaming with my research into emotions ...

The 6 faces of each die.

Scanning across from top left, let's number them 1 to 6. Four of the expressions are easy to label: 1 is sad, 2 is happy, 4 is indifferent and 6 is angry. But 3 and 5 are interesting because they're expressions that emotion researchers haven't paid much mind to - yet here they are in a set of basic emotion dice for kids, which tells me someone needs to pay closer attention to them.

Number 3 is the wink. A facial expression, yes, but an emotion? The wink to me communicates something more intentionally than an emotion does; amusement, affection, a secret ... I know of no papers on winking.

Number 5 is the "mean smile." At another conference this summer I got into a conversation with a fellow psychologist about this one. He pointed out that the muscle groups for frowning and smiling are rarely activated together. But every child knows the meaning of this expression. It combines the powerful, hostile message of furrowed brows with the pleased expression of the smile, and it means "Ha ha! I gotcha!" Is it just that people often don't show this expression to pictures in a lab? Or that it's more a caricature expression than one found in the wild - combining elements of hostile frown and smile that are understandable when combined, but rarely actually expressed together? These questions require further study.

Anyway, for gaming purposes I also noticed that expressions 1, 2, 5 and 6 vary in two ways: mouth grimacing/smiling and eyebrows frowning/lifted.

Eyebrows are an interesting way of signaling dominance. Some research finds that frowning actually makes you look physically more mature and masculine, because grownups and men have heavier brows. Likewise, the raised eyebrows you see in expressions of fear, surprise and sometimes happiness convey that the person is temporarily feeling less powerful, because children have more space from eye to browline. In gaming, they can represent whether the person is feeling more or less powerful than whoever they're facing - in other words, a morale roll.

As for the mouth, that's used to communicate agreeableness - in other words, a reaction roll.

If you've been following this space for a while, you may see where this is going. Stay tuned - I'm going to adapt that table to use with the emotion dice.


  1. We just had a conversation on the OD&D Guild list about using the Moldvay Basic reaction table for morale - glad to see this post.

    BTW - if you see a link to buy those dice online, please post it.

  2. @Erin - thanks, I am also inspired by Basic D&D, using 2d6 for morale and reactions - will have a One Page Rules on that coming shortly.

    As for buying dice, the very first link in the post goes to which is a US web business, and the second to a UK education business which also sells them. For gmdice, you'll need to buy a whole bunch of different dice to justify the shipping cost, I think.

  3. I saw angry eyes + smile identified as meaning "evil" in comments to a Kate Beaton cartoon - there it was used in communication between two co-conspirators behind the victim's back. The straight mouth that you identify as "neutral" or "indifferent" looks resigned or depressed to me. "Wink" is surely direct communication, not a state but an act. Although I don't think I could say what it communicates, exactly.

  4. As for buying dice, the very first link in the post goes to

    Ah yes, the link at the very beginning...Thought I missed that, didn't you? This "Internet," as you call expect me to believe that simply "clicking" with the mouse somehow magically conjures up the page I'm after?

  5. These are the well-known six basic emotions:
    1. emo
    2. perky
    3. horny
    4. constipated
    5. Schadenfreude
    6. Schadenemo