In my previous blog post, I discussed how psychologist Richard Gregory’s work in visual perception (Top-Down Processing Theory) and psychologist Robert Plutchik’s work in mapping emotions (Plutchik’s wheel) provides us with the framework to record and react to visual stimuli. Emotions, and how we express them, is key to our ability to create relationships with others. The easiest way to create a relationship with someone is to meet them in person. You can see how they move, get a feeling for their personality and how they speak, and you can notice little telltale signs that they might be bored by you like a yawn, an eye roll, or fidgety fingers. To really put this into perspective, think about a first date. 

Before going out, you take a long time figuring out how you will present yourself. Years of being barraged by the media have contributed to your sense of what a “normal” person will deem as attractive. You put on makeup, an outfit that makes you feel good about your body, and a perfume that hopefully won’t be too strong. When you get to the date, you notice they are disheveled. Hair that looks unwashed, dressed in a sloppy manner, and they are exuding a creepy energy. NOT what you expected at all. Especially since how he seemed – and looked like – online was so much more…well, just different.

The veil of the internet has made situations like the above so much more common. There are many people who can admit to being catfished when using a dating site or app. But why is it that so many individuals can’t find their match? In this article, Vyvyan Evans describes how emoji have changed how we interact digitally. Emoji provide us with the shorthand necessary to share things quickly, but they also help us express tone and provide emotional cues that would otherwise be really difficult to communicate. While they do assist in dusting away some doubt regarding someone’s personality – there this is the huge chance that how they made you feel online and how they make you feel when you finally meet them in person are completely different. Talk about an emotional rollercoaster.

Today, in an effort to display the duality of emotions that can be displayed within a form of visual stimuli, I am going to dissect two photos and show how they can evoke more than the emotions they initially portray.

The Builder

Source: Pexels

A young man is dirtied with the grime from the labors of his construction job. It sticks to his forearms and is caked into the lines of his face and neck. To protect himself he wears a pair of thick leather gloves, large plastic goggles, and a hat to keep the light’s glare at bay. His skin is heavily tanned, an indication of his outdoor and labor-intensive job. In this moment, his gaze is positioned at the photographer, his blue eyes seeming to try to relay a message. 

At first glance, this photo is clearly communicating that this man is annoyed. Wouldn’t you be if you were covered in gunk? His hand is balled into a fist, and his expression – while not extreme – seems to be saying “get that camera out of my face.” The corner of his mouth is taught, a sign of disapproval. He doesn’t appear to like what’s going on in this moment – but was he really meant to be there? If we look a bit deeper into this image, I believe that we can see pensiveness. While his expression can initially be read as annoyed, I think that we can also read his expression as someone who was deep in thought. If we look closer, this man doesn’t seem to “fit in.” He’s clean-shaven, his body isn’t muscular like most construction workers, and his energy is emanating a lack of passion, and a desire to be somewhere else. Was this not where he was meant to be? For all we know, this could be a job he took just to put food on the table. Perhaps he was a businessman who ran short on his luck and needed to start over? Maybe his father guilted him into working in the family business. What was first taken as annoyance could actually be read as someone thinking about how they are dissatisfied with their present situation.

The Diner

Source: Pexels

In a quaint cafe, a lady pulls her layered fruit parfait closer to take her first bite. It’s summer and the fruit is ripe and in season. While she might be eating alone, this treat replaces the need for friends. A sugar rush is appreciated as she has many errands to run and doesn’t know when her next meal will be. 

For many of us, this simple image evokes the emotion of anticipation. Ordering food at a restaurant is always exciting because we love seeing how the ingredients on the menu come together to form a complete dish. Our mouths water at the sight of something delicious and when we finally get our plate – it’s thoroughly enjoyed. But for some people, the sight of food causes apprehension. For those with eating disorders, the mere sight of food can cause nausea and anxiety. Here is how this image can read as communicating apprehension. As we can see in the photo, the woman is thin and her parfait is all fruit sans a dollop of whipped cream on top. The position of her shoulders are squared, a sign that could be read as discomfort, and her fingers gingerly hold the glass and spoon as if they might bite her. While we cannot know for sure what this woman might be feeling about her breakfast out, it is surely possible to see how this image can go from satisfying to sensitive just by reading into certain cues.


Freedman, J. (2019, July 18). Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions: A Guide to Understanding Emotions • Six Seconds. Retrieved from

Mcleod, S. (n.d.). Visual Perception Theory. Retrieved from

The emoji: Japan’s most transformative design? (2017, July 17). Retrieved from

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