I Viewed The Morning With Alarm

Merriam-Webster defines Alarm as,

: a device that makes a loud sound as a warning or signal

: a feeling of fear caused by a sudden sense of danger

: a warning of danger

Alarm is a primary emotion paired with Aggression. Alarm is a blend of Fear and Surprise. In Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions this emotion is listed as Awe. But the meaning of Awe has changed over time, from the original meaning of fear to one of wonder, and Alarm seems a better characterization for the combination of Fear and Surprise.

Alarm is the sudden activation of the fear circuit in the amygdala within our brains. The amygdala is the early warning response center, the call to attention, where words or consciousness are not involved. In case of a major emergency, the amygdala bypasses the conscious brain and immediately initiates the release of adrenaline to increase awareness and ability for action by the body.

The amygdala is also directly responsible for the processing of emotions and memory. When we are in danger and experience fear, the vividness of the emotional response is captured here, and a memory is created. Therefore, when we receive a signal from our perception – an unexpected surprise of perceived danger – without requiring conscious recall, we can act immediately to save ourselves.

The artist for Caricatures displays this feeling of alarm by the image of a person who is startled by the presence of a spider. The immediate physical response is visible through the startled look – the wide open eyes, the gasping mouth, the hands raised in fear, and the hair standing on end. It is a distinctive view into the feeling of alarm.

The emotion Alarm in the Caricature series of sketches.

The emotion Alarm in the Caricature series of sketches.

The artist for Watercolors displays alarm though different imagery. Here a skier turns around and sees the onrushing snow of an avalanche. Without any conscious recall of past situations, the skier knows this is very dangerous. We can imagine the alarm felt by the skier, and the frantic activity to outrun the avalanche.

The emotion Alarm in the Watercolor series of sketches.

The emotion Alarm in the Watercolor series of sketches.

A Matter of Trust

Merriam-Webster defines trust as,

: belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective, etc.

: an arrangement in which someone’s property or money is legally held or managed by someone else or by an organization (such as a bank) for usually a set period of time

: an organization that results from the creation of a trust

When we feel Trust about someone or something, we make several assumptions – of prediction, interdependence, belief and reciprocity. There is risk in making these assumptions.

First, we have a mental model that predicts how someone will behave in the future situations. We envision different scenarios and believe we know how these scenarios will unfold. This reduces anxiety and worry, and allows us to be open and vulnerable.

Second, we are open and vulnerable about our emotions, without concern that the other person will take advantage of our openness. We believe that they will treat our openness with compassion and understanding. We expect that they will not use it for their own benefit, or harm us with the information we disclose.

Third, without full knowledge of their intentions or motivations, we believe someone will do what they promise. We give up something valuable or precious, without certainty that the other person will behave as we expect. But we believe the positive intent of the other person.

Finally, Trust requires future delivery of reciprocity. We give up something now, and believe that the other person has the ability (not just the intent) to do what we expect in the future. So we act now – we share resources, insights, feelings, etc., knowing that in future, should we need that help, it will be offered to us.

Trust involves risk that these assumptions will not be true. We may be wrong about our prediction of someone’s behavior. Our confidences may be shared in ways we did not expect. People may not have the intent or ability to follow through in the way we presume. Trust is so essential for cooperation, information sharing, problem solving, and conflict resolution that we accept these risks.

In the Caricature series of Sketches, the artist displays two people shaking hands to symbolize Trust. Shaking hands involves touching which is a very important to establish and convey Trust. Our skin is the largest organ, the first sense that brings us information of the outside world, and a very important way to share emotional signals that symbolize Trust. This sketch is an elegant way to demonstrate the emotion of Trust.


The emotion Trust in the Caricature series of sketches.

The Watercolors artist approached Trust differently. Trust is an emotion that is shared by living beings. For the sketch, the artist displayed a bird sitting on a human hand, pecking and eating the food offered in the hand. The bird has overcome the natural suspicion and fear of its species to Trust a human. It is a wonderful demonstration of Trust across species.


The emotion Trust in the Watercolor series of sketches.

Is Anger Bad?


Merriam-Webster defines anger as, “a strong feeling of being upset or annoyed because of something wrong or bad : the feeling that makes someone want to hurt other people, to shout, etc. : the feeling of being angry”.

When we feel fear, it is because of an imminent physical threat. But anger is provoked by something we hear or see which makes us feel wronged, makes us feel our boundaries have been violated. Without even knowing it we can cycle very quickly from fear to anger, e.g., when we swerve to avert a collision in traffic. The incipient fear of an accident is instantaneously replaced by anger at the other driver’s poor driving.

Fear and anger result in arousal of our central nervous system. But while fear makes us feel cold and clammy, with anger we feel heat and fire. Physically, our heart rate and blood pressure increases, our muscles tense and make us quiver and shake. Our mind is turbulent – we feel wronged, that what is happening is unjust, unfair or undeserved. Our actions signal this agitation in body and mind – we yell or scream, clench our teeth, tense our body and want to explode, hit something or someone.

Anger has many benefits. Anger helps us express our value system and morals when we feel something is unfair or unjust, and it can motivate us to reach our goals in the face of problems and barriers. Anger is a signal to others that we are upset and annoyed, that there is a problem that needs to be resolved. Anger can help us understand our needs and come up with a plan to meet those needs.

We are also aware that there are many downsides of anger when we do not manage it well. Anger makes people uncomfortable and can lead to poor choices and outcomes.

In the Caricatures series of sketches, the artist has displayed anger through faces turned away from each other. Each feels wronged over some injustice or unfairness, and because of their anger, they are not communicating. Their emotions are hot, faces are red, steam is rising above their heads. Each is waiting for the other to make the first move to resolve the situation. We’ve all been in this situation in our relationships.


The emotion Anger in the Caricature series of sketches.

In the Watercolors series of sketches, the artist shows a human eye with a burning flame to communicate the idea that anger is a fire inside us. Fire shows how strongly we feel at being wronged, while the visibility of the blaze communicates the feeling of anger to others.


The emotion Anger in the Watercolor series of sketches.

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.

Color and Emotion

It seems clear and obvious that color should be able to evoke different emotions in humans. For example, the color “Red” evokes feelings like Rage, Aggression, or Love (Passion). Or the color “Blue” can evoke Sadness, Optimism, or Trust. The first major published work on the association between color and emotion was Goethe with his book Theory of Colors.

However, it is less obvious whether this association between a color and emotion is culture specific or universal, e.g., does Red evoke the same emotions in East Asia as it does in Western Culture. The most comprehensive effort I have seen so far is from Information is Beautiful.

The different meanings of colors in various cultures

The different meanings of colors in various cultures

While comprehensive, the graphic above is very complex. It is difficult to see the relationships between different cultures and colors. To make this visualization easier, I created a 2 x 2 matrix that compares and contrasts these relationships.

Comparison of emotional meaning of different colors in various cultures

Comparison of emotional meaning of different colors in various cultures

In the matrix above, the Y-axis represents the different colors from Warm colors such as Red, Yellow and Orange to the Neutral (or Achromatic) colors White, Gray and Black to the Cool colors Blue, Purple and Green. The X-axis represents Culture, spanning East Asia (China and Japan) to Western Culture (USA and Europe).

Some differences jump out by using this approach. In East Asia, the Warm colors of Red, Orange and Yellow are associated with Happiness, Optimism, Joy and Love. Whereas in Western Culture, these Warm colors are associated with Love (Passion), Alarm, Rage, and Aggression.

In East Asia, the Cooler colors of Blue, Green and Purple are associated with Harmony (Calm) or Hope. However, in Western Culture, these Cooler colors are associated with emotions like Happiness, Optimism, Trust, Love, Pride.

Finally, the Neutral colors of White, Gray and Black broadly evoke emotions like Sadness, Remorse, Grief and Submission, Purity, etc. This is true even though a specific color such as White may represent Purity in Western culture, and Loss in Eastern cultures.

The conclusion from this matrix is that there isn’t a universal mapping of color to emotion that spans all human cultures. Because of these differences, the VoxHumans app does not ascribe a color for each emotion, e.g., Red representing Optimism, or Blue representing Trust.

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