Our findings show more positive response to headshots than body shots; Portrait photos (mean Rank 17.4) elicit higher Valence than Full Body photos (mean Rank 29.1). Nevertheless, while the top ranked photo is the human-like Rhesus Monkey, the other Portraits are much further down the rank order.
What happens between the Rhesus Monkey and the Endormi Lizard? What generates higher valence than Portrait and Full Body photos? Relationships. Especially those showing strong emotional connection.
Joining the Vulture in the bottom ranks are three Full Body Wild Animal photos: Indian Rhino (Rank 32), Alligator (Rank 33) and Antelope (Rank 34). What do you feel when you look at these photos? Do they elicit negative emotional responses? Would a more ‘friendly’ Full Body photo generate a positive response? Of course, but not so much.
The Rhesus Monkey Portrait has the highest Valence in the study (Rank 1). It closely resembles a human face with a captivating look in its eyes. In stark contrast is the Full Body Vulture, achieving the most negative Valence (Rank 35). Compared to the engaging Rhesus Monkey, it is not a surprise that emotional response to the unappealing Vulture is far less favorable.
Come Feel with Me: Valence and Common-Sense Validation
We expect faces to be the most evocative of emotional response, but animal faces generate only half the activity of human faces in areas of the brain critical to processing facial information. However, animal faces show 2.5 times the activity of response to full-body animals. Consistent with these MEG (magnetoenephalography) results, we find a striking difference between Portrait and Full Body Wild Animal photos. (Halgren, et al., 2002)
Faces engage the brain more than any other visual information. Expressions are the key to nonverbal communication. Friend or foe, their face unlocks a wealth of information in the brain of the beholder. Research on the evolution of facial expression shows primates use expressions similar to ours. 1, 2
The highest Valence among the Full Body Wild Animal photos is the Giant Panda (Rank 16). This middle-of–the-pack ranking is a surprise in that the Giant Panda is so adorable. It is highly publicized and much in demand as stuffed animals and other product designs. The World Wildlife Fund uses a Giant Panda image in their logo. Such factors create a favorable cognitive component, which would appear later.
One of the strengths of The Wild Animals Experiment is that we informally use our emotional self-awareness, our common sense, to validate the findings. It is difficult to identify and verbalize the complexity of emotional response, but easy enough to know we respond more favorably to that Rhesus Monkey than this Vulture.