Under certain conditions, even 2D shapes can be interpreted as animate social agents rather than simple intentionless objects. In other words, you have imbued the red and green circles with desires and intentions. You have granted them minds.This phenomenon was perhaps most famously investigated in 1944 by Smith College experimental psychologists Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel. In their first experiment, the psychologists simply instructed their female undergraduate subjects to “write down what happened” in the movie above. (The rest of this post will only make sense if you watch the video above!)Most of the thirty four subjects interpreted the shapes in the movie as animate characters. Thirty two described them as people, and two described the shapes as birds.
In another experiment:
Having verified that humans spontaneously thought of the shapes in their video as animate, Heider and Simmel showed the film to another thirty six undergraduate students. They were explicitly asked to describe the personalities and desires of each of the shapes.
Thirty five of them thought of the big triangle as mean, and used adjectives like aggressive, warlike, belligerent, quarrelsome, angry, bad-tempered, dominant, and irritable. They described it as a bully or as a villain, and they thought it enjoyed “picking on smaller people.” Tellingly, it was universally described using male pronouns.