Human Emotions for Objects

Blog / Mahdi Babaei / October 10, 2018

We may have feelings for an object which we are not consciously aware of. Have you ever felt joy, hate, serious, safe or entertained when interacting with an object? You have probably asked yourself, “why is it so?” Imagine if you lost access to your smart-phone. How would you feel? Well, there is a psychological explanation about your feelings for tools and objects. Exploring the sources of such feelings can be used in designing new computer-aided tools. It may enhance their acceptance by their potential users, especially for everyday uses. It may also persuade them to develop feelings as well. In other words, we may be able to trigger or generate feelings in users through a tool or object by proper consideration of emotional design elements in it. To know how we may do it, we should first discuss why we have feelings for objects.

Why we have feelings for objects

Firstly, our emotions are quite personal, hence, subjective. Our feelings are either states of mind or results of our judgments. For instance, happiness is a state of mind whilst satisfaction is the result of our judgment, considering the usefulness of an object attaining our goals. States of mind or judgments, however, are affected by a variety of inter or intra-personal factors such as past experiences that would also be personal. Thus, we may have different opinions and feelings about an object compared to other people around us. While we may not be totally satisfied with a design, it may still elicit our feelings and make us happy, sad, entertained,etc . There is also a psychological justification for using (or keeping) things that we may not be fully satisfied with, including human coping behaviour (e.g. think about cons and pros of your handphone and your coping behavior towards it’s cons ), though this post will not go into detail on the topic.

Secondly, many of our feelings and emotions for the objects around us are not directly related to the object itself. In fact, we could have feelings for a secondary object that is indirectly related to the primary object of focus. Think about an electric kettle—is it exciting? What may make you feel good about this tool? It could be your morning coffee or tea that kettle helps you to make. Thus, a kettle is an intermediate object helping you to enjoy what is exciting for you, which is your morning tea/coffee in this case.

Thirdly, some of our feelings towards objects refer to past incidences and nostalgia. We may have good feeling about soft materials and feel good when touching a soft fabric. One explanation could be our sense of need for comfort as humans. Another way to explain this perhaps is our memory from the past. We tend to have many memories from our childhood in our long-term memory that we may not necessarily recall relying on short-term memories. Thus, we may remember soft fabrics that were used in the design of our clothing as infants that kept us warm, comfortable and safe. In addition to tactile senses, we may remember colours (kids toys are usually designed using bright and vibrant colours) that eventually became our favorite colours to this day. We may feel that a product made of leather is valuable and deem it luxurious. We may also lose our feeling about some types of materials. For instance, plastic material represented advanced technology years back, whilst now it has associations with being cheap due to the transience of plastic goods.

Fourthly, we may have no prior experience or emotional attachment with an object. We may even have no clue about an object’s affordance. However, we may find it fun and entertaining to play with. Think about your very first time using a smartphone. Did you know what it does? Of course not. Was it fun to play with? Absolutely. This is one of the reasons that kids may enjoy playing games on tablets or athletes may prefer to use dedicated trackers. They are fun, entertaining and enjoyable. We may have the same feelings for cartoons, animations and comics—they all share an attribute in common, i.e not following world’s physics rules. You may remember the Roadrunner cartoon where Wile E Coyote would hang somewhere in midair and fall only when he realised that he is about to plummet into a chasm. Cartoons and comics are where humans can talk to birds, fly and lift a car and smash it with their bare hands. Computer games are also allowing kids to act as adult soldiers or to throw birds with a slingshot; both of which are not practical in reality.


Our feelings for different types of forms and objects’ materials are rooted in our past and many other psychological foundations. Such elements can be considered as a part of any computer-aided system’s design process to persuade users to feel the same way about newly designed objects. The new trend of designing house decorations to look like antiques or old-fashioned is a an example of stimulating the feeling of classic and value for objects. Wearable devices are the most personal form of computers and are expected to be always on and suitable for everyday use. To persuade users to develop feeling for them and accept them as a part of their daily life, we need to properly consider emotional design elements in them. They must feel pleasure in having them constantly on their bodies. To do so, we need to have a better understanding about the human pleasure in using different products, which will be discussed further in our next post.


  1. Norman, D. A. (2004). Emotional design: Why we love (or hate) everyday things. Basic Civitas Books.
  2. Marsella, S., & Gratch, J. (2003, July). Modeling coping behavior in virtual humans: don’t worry, be happy. In Proceedings of the second international joint conference on Autonomous agents and multiagent systems (pp. 313-320). ACM.
  3. Norman, D. (2013). The design of everyday things: Revised and expanded edition. Constellation.

Thanks to Allan Jones, Rodney Pilgrim, Jake Renzella, Joost Funke Kupper and Tanya Frank for their feedback.