MonthOctober 2015

The Story of Fear

Merriam-Webster defines fear as, “to be afraid (of something or someone); to expect or worry about (something bad or unpleasant); to be afraid and worried”.

Fear is the emotion we feel when there is a specific and immediate threat to our physical self. We address this threat through the “fight or flight” response, or, in cases of extreme terror, through the “freeze response”.

Fear is a basic emotion tapping into a very primitive involuntary circuit. When we encounter fear, it takes over the brain and the body, elbowing out all other thoughts, and leading to bodily processes of sweating and shaking. Other rapid and instinctive actions include expanding sensory surfaces to take in more information by raising eyebrows, opening eyes wide, and stretching lips horizontally to scream or shout.

Fear can also be a story that we tell ourselves. This story may involve the future development of a threat towards something we value – security, health, life, money, or property. These fears are often learned, can be as real as the those involving imminent physical danger, and are different but closely related to anxiety. While fear is the focus on “a known external danger”, anxiety is “a generalized response to an unknown threat or internal conflict”.

In the Caricatures series of sketches, the artist depicts Fear by a person cowering under the bedcovers at the sight of spectral arms reaching out towards the person. The hair is standing on end, the face is covered, the eyes are wide, and danger is imminent. Everyone will recognize this feeling of fear – where all you want to do is to make the fear inducing object go away.

The emotion Fear in the Caricature series of Sketches

The emotion Fear in the Caricature series of Sketches

The artist preparing the Watercolors series of sketches used different imagery, but equally evocative of the feeling of fear. A person is entering a pitch black room and is becoming aware of something inside the room. The image plays up our human unease with threats that lie waiting for us in darkness. It also represents imminent personal danger and the story we tell ourselves of a developing threat.

The emotion Fear in the Watercolor series of Sketches

The emotion Fear in the Watercolor series of Sketches

The Importance of Sadness

Merriam-Webster defines sad as, “affected with or expressive of grief and unhappiness.”

Happy and Sad are a core pair of opposite emotions felt by every human being. Just like everyone has felt what it means to be happy, everyone has felt sad at some point in their lives.

The Pixar movie, Inside Out, showed the character emotion of Sadness was as important to Riley as the emotion of Joy. Sadness assists Riley in telling her parents that she needs help, that she is missing her old life in Minnesota. Sadness helps Riley come to terms with her new life in San Francisco

So what makes human beings sad and why is it a basic emotion?

Sadness has to do with loss – loss of light, loss of a loved one, loss of an expected future, etc.

Sadness helps us remember that our reality at this moment is different from our past expectations. We don’t repeat the same errors because Sadness helps us learn about ourselves and understand how we make decisions.

For Caricatures, the artist depicted Sadness as a bluish – gray cloud with a downcast face and rounded shoulders. The cloud is all-encompassing, in a full downpour, no ray of light to brighten up any part of it. The downcast face is averted without eye contact, and the lips are turned down in a picture of suffering. The body language expresses unhappiness, resignation and defeat.

The emotion Sad from the Caricature series of Sketches

The emotion Sad in the Caricature series of Sketches

The artist for Watercolors prepared an image with a universal symbol of sadness, a human eye with a tear rolling down. Why is this unmistakably a sign of sadness? When we are sad we kick off a series of chemical processes in our brain and that part of our nervous system that we do not consciously control, the autonomic nervous system, which leads to our eyes producing tears. We can relate to this image, since each of us has experienced this truth – when we are sad, we cry and produce tears from our eyes.

The emotion Sad from the Watercolors series of Sketches

The emotion Sad in the Watercolor series of Sketches

What Makes You Happy?

VoxHumans is designed to allow humans to share their feelings anonymously with image and text. The image could be a photo – either from the camera roll or snapped at that moment. After using a photo, since VoxHumans is designed to be anonymous, the user is given the option to anonymize the photo. Alternatively, the image could be a prepared drawing, a “sketch”, that communicates the emotion selected, and is anonymous since it is available to all users.

Since VoxHumans has 24 emotions, there are 24 sketches, one sketch per emotion, in two distinct sketch styles, drawn by two different artists. These styles, Caricatures and Watercolors, communicate emotions visually through unambiguous images that are gender neutral and culture independent.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll display and discuss each of these emotions, but today, I want to begin with Happy.

Merriam Webster’s defines Happy as “feeling pleasure and enjoyment because of your life and situation”.

Happiness has been the subject of research, TV shows, and movies.

Visualize yourself “Happy”. What image do you see in your mind? For each of us, a different memory likely comes to mind – childhood activities, playing an instrument, with friends or a pet, or other life events, such as the marriage, or the birth of a child. The list of situations, activities and objects that could make us happy is just about infinite. The challenge for the artists was to encapsulate this emotion – Happy – in a single image. Each artist met this challenge in a different way.

For Caricatures, the artist depicted happiness through a human pulled aloft by a balloon. The human, with a big smile on their face is relishing the experience of soaring up in the sky, where everyone can look up and see their happiness. There is pleasure and meaning and the emotion is unmistakable.

Caricature_emotion - Happy

The emotion Happy in the Caricature series of Sketches

The artist for Watercolors showed a human hand holding skyward a bright candy stick, for everyone and themselves to see and savor the victory of candy acquisition. Perhaps this was a child that finally convinced their parents to buy them this candy. Perhaps this was the hand of an adult reliving their childhood memory. This image shows a quintessentially human action, signaling something of pleasure and meaning, by holding it up and displaying it for everyone to see.

Watercolor_emotion - Happy

The emotion Happy in the Watercolor series of sketches.

A user can adopt one of these predefined sketches to create a Vox that shares their feeling of happiness. Then, using text, the user can share the specific reason that is making them happy. Sketch and text together make it simple and effortless to create a Vox that shares emotions anonymously.

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