Cute Aggression

By Colleen Blaine & Tessa Schwarze

The team records expressions that are later examined frame by frame.

On January 7, 2019 the Clemson University football team defeated Alabama to win their third national championship in school history. Emotions were running high for the Tiger fans: smiles, cheers, hugs. But amid all the ear to ear grins in the stadium were tears. Christian Wilkins, football player and senior communications major, later apologized to the Clemson fans for his display of emotions. “I’m not sorry that I cried, I’m just sorry that I’m an ugly crier,” Wilkins said. Happy crying, ugly or not, is a display of emotion that psychologist Dr. Oriana Aragon in the Department of Marketing refers to as a dimorphous expression. Dimorphous expressions are two contrasting physical displays that manifest from a single, intense emotional experience. Yet, they are not just seen in trophy winning athletes. The urge to pinch a cute child’s cheek, or an awkward laugh when experiencing fear at a haunted house are also dimorphous emotions. “We see them all the time, but we never stop to ask why we do it or even what it communicates,” Aragon said.

Research has shown that emotions influence a customer’s decision to purchase a product. The Dimorphous Expressions Creative Inquiry project, led by Aragon, wants to further the research by asking why this occurs and how intense emotions like dimorphous expressions can inform consumers about product experiences. A good example of dimorphous expression marketing is the car industry. One model drives a car, screaming with fists pumping while speeding down the highway. Another model smiles while driving with tears streaming down their face. The intensity of these emotions can elicit varying reactions among the consumers, but what companies are looking for is the flavor of experience appropriate for the product. In this example, the aggressive driver presents an adventurous edge such as a sports car while the flavor of the crying driver is savory, reflecting the sentiment behind driving a luxury car.

1 (1)The team works together to effectively observe and analyze the psychological aspects of expressions. To evaluate expression, they design experiments using acting majors to display expressions in several videos which are shown to a sample of viewers. The viewers are monitored with an electroencephalogram while they watch the videos. Using marketing strategies that involve dimorphous expressions allows companies to make a more personal connection with their consumers by making the commercials a more intimate experience. Beyond that, the research has an impact on other areas of society such as sports. Wilkin’s ugly cry is just an example of the possible areas this could apply. “Emotions are so important to understand…and apply to so many different contexts. We’re just beginning to skim the surface of possibilities,” Aragon said.