Jennifer Coffey

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Emotion and Perception

As we go through life, we experience a wide range of emotions. To simplify the number of emotions that a person could go through, Robert Plutchik created his Wheel of Emotions. The theory focuses on eight basic emotions and creates various levels for each one. 

  • Anger – annoyance/rage
  • Disgust – boredom/loathing
  • Fear – apprehension/terror
  • Sadness – pensiveness/grief
  • Anticipation -interest/vigilance
  • Joy – serenity/ecstasy
  • Surprise – distraction/amazement
  • Trust – acceptance/admiration

These emotions can be combined based on where they are on the wheel. The result of the combinations creates more emotions.

  • Anticipation + Joy = Optimism (opposite of disapproval)
  • Surprise + Sadness = Dissapproval (opposite of optimism)
  • Joy + Trust = Love (opposite of remorse)
  • Sadness + Disgust = Remose (opposite of love)
  • Trust + Fear = Submission (opposite of contempt)
  • Disgust + Anger = Contempt (opposite of submission)
  • Fear + Surprise = Awe (opposite of aggression)
  • Anger + Anticipation = Aggressiveness (opposite of awe)

Each emotion also has a corresponding color. For example, red is for anger, and blue is for grief. This theory of color can elicit emotions and change the way we see the world.

Designers use the way we see color to their advantage. 

“Many products are deliberately designed to evoke emotions within the user. Designers have a number of ways of doing this. Most designers have a good intuitive feel for how users are likely to react to a product, as well as a good feeling for the importance of the three aspects of design that can induce affect in users: appearance (Visceral), behavior and function (Behavioral), and image and brand considerations (Reflective).” 

And color isn’t the only thing they use to evoke emotion; they also use Gestalt Principles for Natural Interactions

  • Similarity
  • Enclosure
  • Continuation
  • Closure
  • Proximity
  • Figure-Ground

Over the years, other psychologists have added a few more principles of design. 

  • Simplicity
  • Common Fate
  • Symmetry
  • Parallelism
  • Common Region
  • Element Connectivness 

All of these elements help our minds perceive things as a whole, but sometimes our visual perception can be tricked. Optical illustrations are fun, but they also remind us that our minds are susceptible to manipulation. 


Here are a few simple examples of photos that show the opposite (or different) emotion than they display.


Here is a baby trying a lemon for the first time. There is a combination of fear, confusion, disgust, surprise, and anger. The poor baby had no idea what they were in for. Us on the other hand, might find this funny, but we are not going to feel the same emotions as the baby.


Here we see a young volleyball player about to be hit in the face by the ball. Telling where her eyes are looking, the ball is moving very fast and will probably sting for a while. Speaking from experience, she is feeling a little bit of fear, surprise, and anger. From the audience, it is very funny to watch. After making sure they are okay, its common to hear a few chuckles from the crowd.


Overall, we might see images and videos that we connect with, but there are many examples that show the difference between expressing emotion and evoking it. Both of these examples show the emotions of the subject, but they are totally different than the emotions of the audience.


Bonner, C. (2019, March 23). Using Gestalt Principles for Natural Interactions. Retrieved September 05, 2020, from

Bushe, L. (n.d.). Simplicity, symmetry and more: Gestalt theory and the design principles it gave birth to. Retrieved from

Cao, J. (2018, June 11). Web design color theory: How to create the right emotions with color in web design. Retrieved September 05, 2020, from

Mcleod, S. (n.d.). Visual Perception Theory. Retrieved September 05, 2020, from

Norman, D. (n.d.). DESIGNERS AND USERS: TWO PERSPECTIVES ON EMOTION. Retrieved September 5, 2020, from 2005/communication material/DESIGNERS AND USERS_Norman.pdf

Putting Some Emotion into Your Design – Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions. (n.d.). Retrieved September 05, 2020, from

Seckel, A. (n.d.). Visual illusions that show how we (mis)think. Retrieved September 05, 2020, from

2 responses to “Emotion and Perception”

  1. Hi Jennifer!
    I appreciate your clear summary of the principles covered in module 2. You’ve distilled the key information from the readings and presented the information in a way that will be understandable and helpful to a very general audience. It’s also a great way to remember these basic principles. Gestalt, color theory, and Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions are essential structures that will inform our perception and creation of images going forward.
    The first image here really is adorable. I feel bad for the baby, but only a little bit. His squishy face is delightful. And somehow he looks British to me–I’m imagining a teeny tiny accent. Interesting how I get that from so few visual cues!
    You could incorporate design principles into the analysis of this image for greater effect. The white/neutral color scheme suggests innocence and purity. How could other colors add or change the perception here? Where does his reaction fall on the Wheel of Emotions, how can we tell, and what combination of emotions does that elicit in the viewer?
    The second image really made me laugh. I’m not glad she’s about to get hit in the face, but that facial expression is so specific, evocative, and captured in a ridiculous, purely candid moment. Whoever captured this image must have been waiting and observing to find the opportunity for this moment. The photographer was likely an expert sport photographer who knew what to look for in a volleyball game.
    Thanks for making me smile, even if it is at the expense of two innocents!


  2. Hi Jennifer! You’re blog post is a great example of one that fully uses all of the materials in the module while also using your own examples. I think it’s effective to use bullet points like you did. For someone who may be only skimming your post, they’ll be able to take in the most amount of information. I also liked your two examples. They clearly show the differences between what the image is displaying verse what it is evoking. Nice work!


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