Thursday, 15 November 2012

Why do we perceive things to be disturbing?

Ok so this is fairly random, but I have been doing some research as part of one of my projects and I found the results pretty interesting so thought I would share them :)

I am looking into how we perceive things to be disturbing or creepy, and how illustration can make things appear less shocking, and make subjects like death and violence easier to look at. 

I asked a group of people on my course to look at 5 images and rank them in the order of which made them the most uncomfortable, I then asked them to comment on why they found each image the most or least uncomfortable to look at! 

Here are the pictures in the order of least to most hard to look at, and some people comments. Feel free to comment and let me know what order you would have put them in, and why :)

(Illustration by Joanne Oldham)

“The character being stabbed doesn't look like they're in pain.. and it's a puppet, and a cartoon..”
“far away from reality. The colours are less intimidating/scary and the figures have no obvious expressions so it’s easier to distance yourself from what’s happening"
“the characters are too naively drawn, colours are whimsical (all 3 prime colours are used too, a device often used in childrens toys to make them more appealing) the witch is not looking at her victim, which detracts from the hostility the picture would otherwise have”

(from the gashlycrumb tines by Edward Gorey)

“more subversive almost Burton-esque horror”
“This one is really sinister when you think about it, but doesn't feel that disturbing to look at as an image”

“weird but its cartoon like so not as harsh as the more realistic ones.”

“is easy to look at because of the black and white and the snow. it reminds me of calvin and hobbes which i like to read.”

(from tumblr, if you know the artist please comment)

“not as realistic and sort of cute in a twisted way, but it’s a dead kid and that’s not nice, the colours are pretty morbid”
“The way the body is hanging and the sickly colours - It's looks like an old Victorian photograph, which is creepy..”
“cos its a child and it stands out from the others due to yellow colour”

(also tumblr, comment if you know the artist)

“It's the eyes...! She's looking right at you...! And I think the contrast in colours makes it the most intense and disturbing image”
“crazy eyes and depth of blood colour”
“because the eyes are staring directly at you”

(also tumblr, comment if you know the artist)

“claustrophobic images and graphic”
“feeling of claustrophobia and torment”
“very disturbing but the lack of colour causes me to mostly view it objectively rather than subjectively”
“realistic so easier to relate to and looks disturbing-not too bad cos’ there’s no blood”

In conclusion, this confirmed some of what I expected. We are more shocked by images that are more human and things that we can relate to. When things are more cartoon-like they seem detached from reality and therefore less shocking, even if the imagery is of dead children. Many found the fourth image most disturbing because the eyes were looking directly at you, the last image won out because of the feeling of claustraphobia and the fact that it was the most realistic.

One thing I hadn't thought about was how colour affected peoples perceptions, the first image uses bright primary colours which makes it more playful and the imagery was very simplistic, the blood made up of cartoon style droplets means it is very detached from reality.
In the other images, the sickly yellow in the image of the child made it more disturbing, and a few commented that the two monochrome images were easier to look at because of the lack of blood and colour. The face covered in blood was close to winning because people found the blood and colours gross and intense to look at.  

So, what do you think of this experiment? Some useful things to work with here if you want to make any artwork of dead people :)