Negative triangles: simple geometric shapes convey emotional valence

Emotion. 2012 Feb;12(1):18-22. doi: 10.1037/a0024495. Epub 2011 Jul 25.


It has been suggested that downward pointing triangles convey negative valence, perhaps because they mimic an underlying primitive feature present in negative facial expressions (Larson, Aronoff, and Stearns, 2007). Here, we test this proposition using a flanker interference paradigm in which participants indicated the valence of a central face target, presented between two adjacent distracters. Experiment 1 showed that, compared with face flankers, downward pointing triangles had little influence on responses to face targets. However, in Experiment 2, when attentional competition was increased between target and flankers, downward pointing triangles slowed responses to positively valenced face targets, and speeded them to negatively valenced targets, consistent with valence-based flanker compatibility effects. These findings provide converging evidence that simple geometric shapes may convey emotional valence.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Facial Expression*
  • Female
  • Form Perception / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Young Adult