Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 36, Issue 3, pp 404–413 | Cite as

Simple geometric shapes are implicitly associated with affective value

  • Christine L. Larson
  • Joel Aronoff
  • Elizabeth L. Steuer
Original Paper


Growing evidence suggests that the underlying geometry of a visual image is an effective mechanism for conveying the affective meaning of a scene or object. Indeed, even very simple context-free geometric shapes have been shown to signal emotion. Specifically, downward-pointing V’s are perceived as threatening and curvilinear forms are perceived as pleasant. As these shapes are thought to be primitive cues for decoding emotion, we sought to assess whether they are evaluated as affective even without extended cognitive processing. Using an Implicit Association Test to examine associations between three shapes (downward- and upward-pointing triangles, circles) and pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral scenes, in two studies we found that participants were faster to categorize downward-pointing triangles as unpleasant compared to neutral or pleasant. These findings were specific to downward-pointing shapes containing an acute angle. The present findings support the hypothesis that simple geometric forms convey emotion and that this perception does not require explicit judgment.


Emotion perception Implicit cognition IAT Threat 



We wish to thank Molly Barton, and Lorri Kais for their assistance. All authors affiliated with the Department of Psychology. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to: Christine L. Larson, University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, Department of Psychology, 2441 E. Hartford Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53211. Electronic mail may be sent to


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christine L. Larson
    • 1
  • Joel Aronoff
    • 2
  • Elizabeth L. Steuer
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Wisconsin-MilwaukeeMilwaukeeUSA
  2. 2.Michigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA

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