Stereotypically "good" and "bad" images?
January 5, 2012 3:56 PM   Subscribe

Images that people can instantly categorize as "good" or "bad"?

Okay, so I'm designing a psychology experiment that will use a paradigm similar to the Implicit Association Test. For those unfamiliar, here's a quick description:

The IAT asks you to pair two concepts (e.g., young and good, or elderly and good). The more closely associated the two concepts are, the easier it is to respond to them as a single unit. So, if young and good are strongly associated, it should be easier to respond faster when you are asked to give the same response (i.e. the 'E' or 'I' key) to these two. If elderly and good are not so strongly associated, it should be harder to respond fast when they are paired. This gives a measure of how strongly associated the two types of concepts are. The more associated, the more rapidly you should be able to respond.

Because it's based on reaction time, it is important that the things representing "good" and "bad" can be processed and categorized instantly. Most studies will use words of good and bad things. I can't do that, instead I need to use images. The trick is finding images that are basically stereotypical of good or bad.

Here are some that I've come up with:

BAD: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

GOOD: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Does anyone have any ideas for other images that might do the trick? Thanks!
posted by tybeet to Science & Nature (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Candy would be stereotypically good.
posted by dgeiser13 at 4:05 PM on January 5, 2012

You probably want "good" to be a bit broader than "cute", but...

Also try a Google image search for "Babies".
posted by steinwald at 4:06 PM on January 5, 2012

I should point out that I don't associate your first two images with good at all. I'm allergic to both, and I would quickly dub both bad since I associate flowers and xmas trees with misery and itching.

However, maybe go with things like smiles, or happy people, for good?
posted by strixus at 4:07 PM on January 5, 2012

Candy would be stereotypically good.

Not necessarily. Candy is bad for your teeth and bad for dieters.
posted by missmagenta at 4:11 PM on January 5, 2012

The problem with most images is that, as the responses above indicate, people can have very idiosyncratic reactions to many of them. Lots of people don't like small furry pets, for instance.

One solution -- if this works given your research question -- is to have all of the "good" pictures be of people showing positive emotion (smiling or laughing) and all of the "bad" pictures be of people showing negative emotion (crying, being angry, being fearful). Emotion processing on this level is one thing that is pretty well universal.

I'd be worried if you didn't do something like this that your "good" and "bad" images weren't actually "good" and "bad". (At the very least, if the happy/sad faces didn't work for some reason, you would want to select a lot of images and have a separate set of observers rate them for goodness/badness, and then choose the ones where most everyone agreed on the rating.)
posted by forza at 4:13 PM on January 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

Can you use obviously spoiled food (ie moldy) for bad? I would think people would be instinctively good at quickly judging food as bad, and "bad" is pretty universal in that case. Or car accidents (not graphic or horrific ones)? Or minor injuries like a cut finger?
posted by crabintheocean at 4:14 PM on January 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

Could you run a pre-experiment exercise and have a group of (diverse) volunteers go through a set of random images (say, the first hundred google images results for certain keywords), marking them as good or bad or neutral, and use the ones that reach a certain threshold of consensus rather than relying on your own judgment as the sole arbiter?

Isn't picking images you want to be associated with good or bad stacking the deck? What will the experiment show except how strongly other people agree with or disagree with your personal visual aesthetic? Are good and bad words that convey what you mean them to convey? To me they are hopelessly confused. Are you asking for a moral judgment, an indication as to whether I am afraid of or comforted by the subject of the image, a judgment as to whether the subject of the image is pretty or cute, or feedback on the artistic merit of the composition? Is there a particular question you're investigating?
posted by jsturgill at 4:15 PM on January 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

On, candy is generally in the bad category.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:32 PM on January 5, 2012

A picture of a burned home = bad. A sunk boat, crashed car, etc. Good might be an A+ on a test, a rainbow, a happy graduate.
posted by xo at 4:33 PM on January 5, 2012

I personally have a strong negative reaction to holiday decorations due to all the things associated with the season -- namely stress, family drama, religious squabbles -- and the holidays are a time where a not insignificant amount of people feel lonely or depressed or inadequate or all three or more. I don't hang out with negative people but I can only think of one person who likes the holidays. :/

Candy and good food I also think are problematic since so many people have ED or shame and anxiety related to food.

The allergy thing regarding plants/flowers didn't occur to me, but now that it's been mentioned, I can think of two people that would have a gut negative reaction to that.

Now it also occurs to me that some people hate animals, but they seem to be more a minority than the other examples at least. Ditto for babies.

I also thought the KKK image would be an unfortunately happy one for more people than probably expected; growing up in the south, with racist relatives, has been both illuminating and depressing.

I think the suggestion to use expressions might be the simplest; then only sociopaths and autistic people (er, strange to group these in the same sentence) might have different reactions than everyone else. And I guess racists would skew things if they didn't like the race of the person making the expression. But on the whole it might be simplest.
posted by Nattie at 4:44 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Christmas tree should not be in there at all. Definitely more happy people (children playing, drawing, laughing, etc).
posted by two lights above the sea at 4:45 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

There is a library of images meant for exactly this purpose- strongly emotional images to put people in certain states of mind specifically for psychology experiments. I can't remember the name. I'll get back to you.
posted by supercres at 4:45 PM on January 5, 2012

Your "bad"s so far are all dangerous or destructive. There are lots of other ways something can be "bad" (e.g. by being disgusting, unhealthy, unreliable, immoral, useless, frustrating, misleading, boring, etc. etc. etc).

I'm liking the happy-face/sad-face idea that was floated earlier. But if you don't go that route, make sure you're covering all the territory and not accidentally testing association with some narrower concept than "good" or "bad."
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:50 PM on January 5, 2012

Here it is. You want the International Affective Picture System (IAPS). I'm pretty sure that's the one that our lab used for a similar experiment. If you're planning to publish, that's all you should use, given that it's a peer-reviewed, published, normed library for exactly this purpose.
posted by supercres at 4:52 PM on January 5, 2012 [20 favorites]

Depending on your guidance, I might choose say some of the bad images were good for being interesting images or things I'm interested in. I would immediately label the xmas tree bad. I can't think of how this can be done universally.

Maybe rotten food as bad. Nobody's into rotten food.
posted by cmoj at 4:54 PM on January 5, 2012

I thought your sleeping elk or whatever looked like it had been shot and/or killed.
posted by hermitosis at 5:06 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wrapped presents, uniformly good. Christmas tree? Not so much (to many of us).

Bad things: someone stuck in a downpour, the umbrella blown inside out. A flat tire. A fender-bender.

Good things: close-up of two hands being held (adults, or little kids, or mommy holding toddler's hand). Sliced bread. (Hey, everything great is compared to it!) :-)
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 5:42 PM on January 5, 2012

Should point out: as evidenced by this thread, nothing is universal good/bad, certainly not enough items to design an experiment around. So don't worry about that; just collect enough data that it's no longer a valid concern. The IAPS (eye-apps) has done exactly the norming process that jsturgill (rightly) recommends, so you don't have to reinvent the wheel. Categorizations in the database are made by average response to the image, and without reading the paper (no access at home), I can only assume that anything with too wide a range of responses (high SD on whatever scale they used) is thrown out.

Also, if it's the library I'm thinking of, be advised that it contains some... saucy photos. If you're working on this at work/school/lab, tell your officemates in advance so they don't get the wrong idea. That was a fun couple of weeks at our lab. ("Ohmigod you guys, come look at THIS one!" -- the RA working on the emotion/affect/memory experiment.)
posted by supercres at 5:42 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

One more then I promise I'm done.

The suggestion to use human expression images is a good one, but realize that that's a much different experiment than the one you propose. I wish I could cite my sources here (I think it might be Marco Iacoboni), but research has shown that showing pictures of humans making different faces engages the motor cortex of the brain. That is, if you ask a subject whether a person looks happy or sad, they imagine themselves making the same face to get the answer. Looking at bees or children or sharks or attractive members of the desired sex, as examples of the sort of thing you ask for, has no such activation. It's a totally different process to categorize them, in the same way that recognizing the face lights up a completely different area of the brain (FFA, Kanwisher et al 1997) than, e.g., a landscape (PPA, Epstein and Kanwisher 1999).

On the plus side, facial emotion IS truly universal (since you'd want to screen for sociopathy/ASDs anyway). That's basically Paul Ekman's early anthropological work on emotion.
posted by supercres at 7:22 PM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: jsturgill, I should clarify. I'm not directly interested in peoples' categorizations as my research question proper. In a previous condition I will have used subliminal conditioning to create a positive or negative association with (images of) a particular person. That person will appear in this experiment with the stereotypically good/bad stimuli, and what I will be doing is using the IAT (or GNAT) paradigm to tease out the extent to which that positive or negative association exists by comparing categorizations of that person with categorizations of the stereotyped objects. I hope that's clear, it is a little more complicated than that.

Many of you have pointed out the subjective nature of these preferences. I am aware of that, and I think it is difficult to avoid entirely (some people might have a distaste for smiling babies), but I will be piloting these images. The important thing is that most people most of the time will react to the images as intended; slight idiosyncrasies (allergies, or otherwise) will fall out with a large enough sample size.

Some of you have mentioned using faces expressing emotions. I think this is partially a good suggestion, but I am wary of using only faces, despite them being easily processed. It would be best to have a mixed bag of various kinds of good and bad. I like the idea of using disgusting, immoral, frustrating, etc etc... I do have some bloody/gorey photos and photos of bugs that fall into the disgusting realm, but certainly moldy food might work too. I also like the swastika and MLK/Hitler ideas. Not so sure about yin-yang, but the peace symbol would be a nice contrast to the swastika. There have been some other ideas I will be google searching as well.

The IAPS sounds like an excellent suggestion from the description of it. I will put in a request and see what comes of it. Unfortunately it appears to take up to 30 days for a response and I am working under some time pressure. We'll see how that goes.

Thanks all for the suggestions, and if there are any more I'm all ears!
posted by tybeet at 6:58 AM on January 6, 2012

Bad: hypodermic needles. A long line at the DMV (this is actually an easily recognizable image).

Good: piles of cash money. A travel-brochure beach with palm trees.
posted by steinwald at 7:37 AM on January 6, 2012

tybeet, I suppose I was thinking about something generally accepted as a highly political and exclusive symbol (swastika) as opposed to something generally accepted as a non-political, inclusive one (yin-yang) - but I think I think too much.

Warning - potentially triggering images if you click the following link and start the test.
The BBC also did something a few years ago about the science of disgust - there are some (one in particular - vilely / triggery / want to scrub my eyeballs with bleach) images that you may find "useful". I made the mistake of starting the test to see if it was the one I remembered - it was, unfortunately, and much sooner than I remembered ... I didn't finish so don't know how different it might be to the one I did do a few years ago (and really wished I hadn't).
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 8:06 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, the "Ouch" photos were very disgusting.
posted by tybeet at 9:41 AM on January 6, 2012

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