Reaction to Facebook Reactions

Facebook is to be commended for making changes – most importantly, for recognizing the diversity and richness of human emotions, and reflecting these emotions in social interactions. But this is just a start. Given the number of Facebook users and inertia in changing user habits, this process of adding emotions is likely to continue into the future.

Facebook has started offering other choices behind their Like button – they call it Reactions. Instead of simply offering Like as a response to a post, now users can react by saying Love, Haha, Wow, Sad or Angry.

These are the new reactions introduced by Facebook

The new Reactions introduced by Facebook

Facebook has historically been open to changing aspects of its site, e.g, changing the News Feed, or introducing the Like button. Generally, Facebook has pushed through user resistance to these changes. Reactions is a change that seems long overdue and one that has been requested by users for a long time. However, I argue below that the implementation of Reactions leaves much to be desired, and that user uptake and adoption could have been better if done differently. Expect to see Reactions being fine tuned and changed over the coming weeks and months.

Inertia of Like

The Like button has historical inertia for Facebook, users and advertisers. Like is a blunt form of engagement, meaning one of many different emotions or reactions. Fundamentally though, Like is not an emotion. Like signifies enjoyment or approval, not emotions. Adding emotions to Like is grafting two different plants together – they may eventually merge, but on the surface, they look completely different. As a result, I anticipate that users will continue to use Like for the majority (80% or higher) of their reactions, since it is familiar and other reactions are unrelated to Like.

A Motley Mix of Reactions

There are three issues here which are likely to inhibit usage and adoption:

  1. Mix of meanings: While Love, Sad or Angry are emotions, Haha and Wow are not emotions. Haha is an expression of laughter, amusement or entertainment, and a proxy for emotion of Happiness or Joy. All of us have seen the more common LOL, but perhaps Facebook felt LOL was too casual or dated. Wow is a proxy for the emotion of Surprise.
  2. Mix of design: Four of the five emotions are represented by an animated face emoji, but Love is represented by the heart. While different variations of emoji were covered in development, none surprisingly show the animated face with heart for eyes.
  3. Mixed meanings across social media: Facebook chose the emoji of heart to show Love, but just a few months ago, Twitter changed its symbol for favorites from Star to Heart. Twitter calls their heart symbol a Like. Confusion between Like (thumbs up – Facebook), Love (heart – Facebook) and Like (heart – Twitter) across different social networks will inhibit usage, since users need to process and recall different meanings for the same icon.

No Negative Emotions

Facebook had the opportunity to introduce emotions like Disgust, Disappointment or Contempt, but chose not to do so. Human beings are not one dimensional – they want to interact online with the same richness and complexity of emotions they feel in the real world. Limiting reaction choices to only positive emotions directly leads to limiting user engagement and the reinforcing the use of blunt Like button.

No Change in Status

Reactions allow users a simple way to provide feedback to a post. However, a user cannot signify their emotion/feeling when creating that post in an easy or simple manner. The process involves several layers of embedded menus to get to feelings like Happy, Loved, Blessed, Crazy, etc. Facebook had an opportunity to simplify the Status posting process. By doing so, the user could specify their emotion when creating that post. This would probably have led to greater clarity and consistency in feedback from friends. For example, if you state that you are feeling Sad when you post, chances are that your friends are not going to respond with Love, Haha or Wow – more likely with Sad or Angry. Now when you post, and your friends respond with Love, Sad and Angry (for example), what are you supposed to make of it?

Look for additional changes in Reactions. I believe this is a good start, but just the beginning of a journey for Facebook.

The Constant Fear of Scarcity, Aggression As Its Child

The final primary emotion pair of opposites are Aggression and Alarm.

Merriam-Webster defines Aggression as,

: a forceful action or procedure (as an unprovoked attack) especially when intended to dominate or master

: the practice of making attacks or encroachments; especially : unprovoked violation by one country of the territorial integrity of another

: hostile, injurious, or destructive behavior or outlook especially when caused by frustration

In Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions, Aggression is blend of the basic emotions, Anger and Anticipation.

Aggression has similar physical markers to Anger. These include rapid heartbeat and breathing, dry mouth, sweating, muscle tension and shaking. At the same there are a mix of emotional feelings, including frustration, hostility, anxiety, impatience and restlessness. There is the Anticipation of physical and verbal violence.

Aggression in animals developed to confer advantages. These advantages have to do with protecting territory, mates, offspring or food.

Aggression in humans is more complex, and besides the biological drivers, is also driven by social and cultural factors and morals. For example, some societies are more comfortable with physical punishment of children. In some cultures, honor killings are acceptable. Morals define acceptable limits and aggression can result when experiencing behavior that is outside those limits.

The artist for the Caricature series of sketches depicted Aggression through an image of a person holding a baseball bat. The person is red in the face with flames of anger coming out their head. The teeth are bared in grimace. The baseball bat in the person’s hand points to the imminent violence.

The emotion Aggression in the Caricature series of sketches

The emotion Aggression in the Caricature series of sketches

The artist for Watercolors shows Aggression through a primal picture of a dog baring its teeth, with lips drawn back in a snarl. You can almost hear the growl emanating from the dog’s throat. The dog is ready to unleash aggression and snap at the outstretched hand.

The emotion Aggression in the Caricature series of sketches

The emotion Aggression in the Watercolor series of sketches

Familiarity Only Breeds Contempt

Merriam-Webster defines Contempt as:

: a feeling that someone or something is not worthy of any respect or approval

: a lack of respect for or fear of something that is usually respected or feared

Contempt is a primary emotion that is the opposite paired emotion to Submission. Since it is a primary emotion, it is comprised of the two basic emotions, Disgust and Anger.

A person feels Contempt towards other people and their behavior, when through comparison, neither the people nor their behavior has met a standard considered important by that person. Judgment is the important aspect of Contempt, and the other people are considered undeserving of respect and less in some way – lower in stature or status, less powerful, less moral or ethical, etc. This disapproval creates a distance or a sense of withdrawal between the person expressing Contempt and other people.

Contempt is best demonstrated through tightened facial expressions, with lips raised on one side of the face. In addition, the person may raise their chin and look down their nose at the other, while rolling their eyes and using a sarcastic tone of voice.

Professor John Gottman has shown through his studies of marital relationships, that of the four signs of distress – defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism and contempt – Contempt is the most damaging and destructive, because of the belittling nature of the associated physical and emotional feelings.

The artist for the Caricature series shows Contempt in the sketch through two faces back-to- back, colored red in anger, expressing their Contempt for the other. Their lips are tightened and pulled up on one side in the classic representation of Contempt.

The emotion Contempt in the Caricature series of sketches

The emotion Contempt in the Caricature series of sketches

The artist for Watercolors shows Contempt in the sketch through a human face that shows the lips pulled up only on one side. Even though the rest of the face, including the eyes, are not displayed, yet the expression of contempt and disapproval is clearly visible.

The emotion Contempt in the Watercolor series of sketches

The emotion Contempt in the Watercolor series of sketches

Words That Scream For Your Submission

The next pair of paired and opposite primary emotions are Submission and Contempt, and we’ll begin with Submission.

Merriam-Webster defines Submission as,

: the state of being obedient : the act of accepting the authority or control of someone else

As a primary emotion, Submission is the blend of two basic emotions, Trust and Fear.

In secular terms, Submission involves deference to the authority of someone else – an employee to their boss, a student to a teacher, a citizen to their laws, children to their parents. Submission involves conscious choice in willingly accepting the superiority of another. There is trust in the knowledge and wisdom of the authority, along with fear and respect of their superiority.

In religion, Submission involves recognition of a higher authority – God – and obedience to that rules and laws of that authority. For example, Islam literally means Submission to the will of God. In Christianity, Submission is used in reference to God and God’s law, and the call to be humble to one another.

Submission is related but different from obedience, humiliation or shame. Submission involves an affirmative choice in the willing and conscious yielding to someone else, while obedience suggests unquestioning compliance without a choice. Humiliation is when social status is decreased. Finally, shame results from the comparison of the self’s actions with the self’s standards.

The artist for Caricatures used the physical images and gestures of Submission. The head is lowered and bowed, the eyes averted, the body compact and tight, while the lips are pressed together. The sketch conveys deference and acceptance.


The emotion Submission in the Caricature series of sketches.

The artist for Watercolors used the meaning of Submission to show a puppet in the hands of the master. The puppet has given up control, and the master is directing the puppet through the motion of the strings. The puppet is faceless to demonstrate the full acceptance of the authority and control of the master.


The emotion Submission in the Watercolor series of sketches.

Disappointment Haunted All My Dreams

Encyclopedia.com defines Disappointment as,

: the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations

Disappointment is a primary emotion paired as the opposite emotion to Optimism. Optimism is our expectation of the best possible outcome from events, while Disappointment is the feeling when we do not receive the expected rewards of an anticipated future.

As a primary emotion, Disappointment is the combination of Surprise and Sadness basic emotions. The emotion of Sadness associated with Disappointment is a way for us to correct our assumptions of other events in future. By remembering our mistaken assumptions we are less likely to be surprised in the future.

Research suggests that the quickness of our recovery from Disappointment may have both a genetic and environmental (learned) basis, just like the set point for Optimism. Some people may recover quicker from Disappointment, while others may become disheartened or frustrated because they are unable to incorporate the changing information they have received.

Disappointment and Regret are related but different feelings. Disappointment has to do with the anticipation of a positive outcome and the eventual failure, resulting in sadness. Regret has to do with our poor choices in actions and behavior that led to the outcome, and wishing that we could do things differently again.

We use Disappointment and Hurt when we refer to other people and their behavior. We feel disappointed (surprised and sad) when someone does not behave as we expect, e.g, a parent to their child, “I am disappointed in your behavior”. But we feel hurt when we believe the other person’s behavior is unfair or unjust to us, i.e., when they have done us harm.

The artist for Caricatures demonstrates Disappointment through a sketch of a person with a torn kite. Perhaps this person was looking forward to seeing their kite soar in the sky. But now it is torn and cannot fly, and the person is downcast and sad that the expected future of fun did not materialize.

The emotion Disappointment in the Caricature series of sketches

The emotion Disappointment in the Caricature series of sketches

The artist for Watercolors uses sports to illustrate Disappointment. While playing soccer, the forward has only to beat the opposing goalkeeper, but the shot is wide. Each of us can identify with the feeling of Disappointment, while watching the ball go wide of the goal. The anticipated future of the ball in the net, the score and celebration, the adulation of the crowd – all of these will not take place now.

The emotion Disappointment in the Watercolor series of sketches

The emotion Disappointment in the Watercolor series of sketches

Optimism’s My Best Defense

Merriam-Webster defines Optimism as,

: a feeling or belief that good things will happen in the future

: a feeling or belief that what you hope for will happen

Optimism and Disappointment are the next pair of primary opposite emotions, created by combining basic emotions. Optimism can be considered as the combination of Anticipation and Happy basic emotions.

Optimism is the feeling of expectation of the best (from the Latin optimum) possible outcome from events, that good things will happen independent of one’s ability. Each of us has a set point of Optimism that is inherited, as well as being influenced by environmental factors, such as our family environments. This set point or inclination, helps us feel varied levels of Optimism in the face of different life events.

Optimism and Hope are related but different. The definitions of hope have several themes – uncertainty of a specific outcome, multiple ways to get to that outcome and the motivation to start and keep going. Studies have shown that we feel Hope when we consider a specific outcome (e.g., recovery from a temporary illness), while we feel Optimism when it is a general outcome (e.g., today will be a good day).

The artist for Caricatures demonstrated Optimism with the idea of the best possible outcome from an event – the planting of a seed. There are so many things that can go wrong and not allow the seed to grow and flourish – lack of water and nutrition, being eaten by an animal, pests, etc. Optimism says, regardless, the seed will grow into a plant, and the plant into a tree.


The emotion Optimism in the Caricature series of sketches

The artist for Watercolors choose a different approach. The sketch shows a rich, gorgeous, multi-colored world when viewed through the glasses of Optimism, while the rest of the world is in black and white. The feeling of Optimism gives the superpower of the finest, most marvelous view of the world.

The emotion Optimism in the Watercolor series of sketches

The emotion Optimism in the Watercolor series of sketches

This Mountain of Remorse

Merriam-Webster defines Remorse as:

: a feeling of being sorry for doing something bad or wrong in the past : a feeling of guilt

Remorse is paired as an opposite emotion with Love and is a combination of Sadness and Disgust emotions.

Remorse involves our past words or actions, done with calculation or planning, for hurting someone else. We feel Remorse, when we feel sorry in the present for the consequences of those calculated words or actions.

Remorse and regret are similar yet different. They are similar in that they involve feeling sorry. But Remorse involves feeling sorry for hurting someone else, while regret is feeling sorry for hurting ourselves. We feel regret when our actions or words have “damaged our careers, tarnished our reputations, limited our options”.

Remorse is also different from guilt. Guilt involves accepting that one has done something wrong. This acceptance is hurtful to our self-image and we feel “bad”. Our concern about the consequences to ourselves turns guilt into regret. These three terms – guilt, regret and remorse, are closely related so we can feel guilt without feeling regret or remorse, and regret without feeling remorse.

So what to do when you are feeling Remorse? The first step is to stop, think, and take responsibility for your actions, words and motivations. Perhaps you could have taken a different course of action. From the experience, you learn your lesson and forgive yourself while pledging to not repeat your actions again. Finally, you ask for forgiveness by apologizing to the person you have harmed. A proper apology involves an expression of sorrow, an admission of responsibility, the making of amends and a promise that it will not happen again.

The artist for the Caricatures series shows Remorse as a dark cloud of sorrow. The expression on the face has the lips turned down in pain, while the hand is supporting the head that is carrying the weight of the accompanying thought.


The emotion Remorse in the Caricature series of sketches

The artist for the Watercolors series shows a human being feeling Remorse with their face buried in both hands. The person feels the pain and sorrow of recollection, recognizes their mistakes and finds it hard to face anyone else.

The emotion Remorse in the Watercolor series of sketches

The emotion Remorse in the Watercolor series of sketches

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Merriam-Webster defines Love as,

: a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person

: attraction that includes sexual desire : the strong affection felt by people who have a romantic relationship

: a person you love in a romantic way

With Love, we begin a series of eight primary blend emotions formed by combinations of the first 8 “basic” emotions. The first pair of primary blend emotions are Love and Remorse. Using this framework, we could define Love as a combination of Happiness and Trust emotions.

Love has been endlessly discussed and debated. In fact, the Ancient Greeks teased out several different flavors of Love:

  • Philia – friendship or brotherly love
  • Pragma – mature love of lifelong partners
  • Agape – selfless love, love for all humanity
  • Ludus – playful affection, flirting
  • Philautia – self love of two different kinds, narcissistic and positive
  • Eros – intimate love, sexual passion and desire
  • Storge – familial love, e.g., love of parent towards offspring

When there are so many different meanings captured under the same word, it is difficult to have a single definition of Love. But, in general, we can see that Love involves feeling for someone or something else. The artists developed their sketches for the Caricature and Watercolor series, using this aspect of feeling for someone else in their images.

In the Caricature series, the artist depicted two hearts close to each other. The hearts are in physical contact with each other, and they have smiles on their faces, showing that they are Happy to be together. The sketch clearly communicates the feeling of Love.

The emotion Love in the Caricature series of sketches.

The emotion Love in the Caricature series of sketches.

The artist for the Watercolor series, choose a different image for the sketch for Love. In the sketch we see a hand offering a red rose. The image clearly conveys the emotion of Love between two human beings.


The emotion Love in the Watercolor series of sketches.

The emotion Love in the Watercolor series of sketches.

Restless in Anticipation

Merriam-Webster defines Anticipation as,

: a feeling of excitement about something that is going to happen

: the act of preparing for something

Anticipation is the opposite emotion pair with Surprise. While Surprise arises when something does not happen as predicted or when there is an unanticipated event, Anticipation is different. Anticipation is the emotion when we prepare for and expect a specific result. With Anticipation, we project ourselves into the future, visualize a result, and then experience the emotions we will feel in the future.

We use Anticipation to prepare for different future outcomes. We imagine ourselves in these different futures, and think of our emotions in each different situation. These outcomes may be positive or negative, and so Anticipation enables us to experience different emotions without actually experiencing those situations. For example:

  • Excitement or Happiness – When we buy a lottery ticket or when we gamble, we anticipate our emotion if we were to win. We have a sense of pleasure or excitement when that will happen. We may also have a sense of happiness as we think about how we could spend the huge amount of money we will win.
  • Remorse – When we go shopping and like two items, but can buy only one of them. We think, “Will I regret not buying the other item?” We Anticipate the remorse in buying the wrong item.
  • Anxiety – When we go into our doctor’s office to hear a diagnosis, we visualize many different possible outcomes. As we Anticipate which one of these scenarios will come true, we worry about the suffering associated with each scenario and suffer from anxiety.
  • Stress – We have to give a speech in front of an audience. We feel our sweaty palms, the racing heart, and the shortness of breath. We Anticipate different outcomes while speaking – whether it will be well received or if we will forget what we have to say – leading to a feeling of stress.
  • Fear – We sit in the waiting for a root canal in a Dentist’s office, and we tell ourselves the story that it will hurt, that it will take a long time, that we won’t be able to eat. We Anticipate physical discomfort and feel fear at the upcoming procedure.

Because the emotion of Anticipation helps us imagine a rich set of different emotions, it is widely used in popular culture.

Carly Simon sings of Anticipation in her popular song.

Advertisers use Anticipation to create memorable commercials, as in this classic Heinz Ketchup TV commercial.

In the Caricature series of sketches, the artist uses the image of a human being watching sand trickle down the hourglass bulb. Something is going to happen as the top bulb empties out. We can see the complete focus on the event and the thoughts running their head. Physically, excitement is demonstrated through the hands on the hourglass, the closeness to the body, the raised eyebrows, and the smile. The person is excited in Anticipation of the event.

The emotion Anticipation in the Caricature series of sketches.

The emotion Anticipation in the Caricature series of sketches.

The Watercolors artist used a different approach. Here we are the audience watching the sketch, and we see the human hand with the ball and the dog panting in expectation. We can Anticipate exactly what will happen next. The human will throw the ball and the dog will dart after it. The dog will clench the ball in its mouth and bound back to its master with a feeling of satisfaction and pleasure. Our Anticipation of events is clear and unambiguous.

The emotion Anticipation in the Watercolor series of sketches.

The emotion Anticipation in the Watercolor series of sketches.

It Took Me by Surprise

Merriam-Webster defines Surprise as,

: an unexpected event, piece of information, etc.

: an unexpected gift, party, etc.

: the feeling caused by something that is unexpected or unusual

Surprise, the emotion defined by its brevity, arises when something predicted does not happen as expected, or when something unexpected occurs. Surprise is neutral, just a recognition of the unexpected. But as we process the unexpected and understand the implications, the emotion of Surprise rapidly gives way to other emotions – Happiness if the event was gladly received, Fear if there is danger accompanying the event, or Anger if the event is upsetting.

Surprise brings us new information, as our mental model of the world is challenged and reality differs from the expected turn of events, or when completely unexpected events occur. Being forced to reassess our expectations leads to new learning as we are faced with our ignorance. We pay attention with our mind empty of other thoughts. Then, as we process the implications, other strong emotions – like [Happiness]((https://www.voxhumans.com/blog/what-makes-you-happy/), Fear and Anger – flood our mind with feeling. This is why we remember a Surprise years after the event, and why advertisers use Surprise to aid advertising recall.

A Dramatic Surprise on a Quiet Square

Surprise is accompanied by distinctive facial expressions. When we are surprised, we open our eyes wide enough to show the whites, raise our eyebrows so high that they are curved, and open our mouth with our jaw dropped, lips and teeth parted. These distinctive expressions help us take in the maximum information and alert others that we are experiencing something unexpected.

Surprise is different from startle. Startle is a brief, reflex action that we feel even if we expect the event, e.g., the starting gun in a race, whereas a Surprise, by definition, is an unexpected event. Finally, when we are surprised, our eyes are open, but when we are startled, our eyes are tightly closed.

In the Caricature series of sketches, the artist shows someone turning the handle on a Jack-in-the-Box. We don’t know when and what will pop out of the box, and are surprised when it happens. The unpredictability and randomness of the top opening can be endlessly amusing for a child.


The emotion Surprise in the Caricature series of sketches.

The artist for Watercolors prepared a sketch showing a human hand opening the ribbon tied on a gift box. When we open the ribbon and take off the lid, we don’t know what to expect inside the box. When we see what is inside the gift box we first feel Surprise, and then, as we interpret the meaning of the object, another emotion like Happiness, Fear, Anger or Disgust, etc.


The emotion Surprise in the Watercolor series of sketches.

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