The bio-informational theory of emotion defends a three-dimensional structure of emotional responses to environmental stimuli. Affect is defined as the extent to which stimuli are assessed as (un) pleasant, dominating and stimulating. Furthermore, it has been shown that the three dimensions are bi-polar.

In the adjective HEIGHT dimension the “dominance” axis is determined with endpoints of in control and out of control. These results were obtained after calculating factor analyses on 18 semantic differentials (Mehrabian & Russell, 1974). Dominance is described as a measure of stimulus potential. The dimension was therefore originally called ‘potency’. A low stimulus potential of the environment causes a strong sense of dominance or control. High stimulus potential induces a subdued feeling, this can evoke a feeling of anxiety caused by loss of control. High dominance values are obtained when people feel that they have a high degree of self-determination, such as freedom of choice, or freedom of action. A social environment can also generate dominance or compliance, for example in informal or formal situations, or when someone is present lower or higher in rank or position. The matching facial parameter is the position of the eyebrows. Lowered eyebrows indicate controle, heightened eyebrows show a subdued feeling with loss of controle.

In the basic HEIGHT dimension, the dominance axis is linked to firmness. Strong and weak are opposites expressed with the eyebrows. When the central side of the eyebrows is pulled down, it indicates strong and hard control. On the other hand, when the central side of the eyebrows is pushed up, there is weaker and softer control.



‘Conservative’ and colour in Germany
Conservative: black 40%, brown 28%, … Heller (1989)
‘Egotism’ and colour in Germany

Egotism: black 22%, yellow 17%, gold 9%, …
Heller (1989)


Dominance-submissiveness is a feeling state that can be assessed from verbal reports using the semantic differential method. This dimension is the inverse of the judged potency of the environment, as measured by the semantic differential. Behaviorally, dominance is measured in terms of postural relaxation (i.e., body lean and asymmetrical positioning of the limbs) and is independent of pleasure and arousal. Analogous concepts have been used by some investigators to describe the effects of environments. Spivack (1969) described different aspects of hospital environments in terms of the degree to which they restricted variability in patients’ behaviors. Proshansky, Ittelson, and Rivlin (1970) proposed “freedom
of choice” as one dimension to describe hospital environments and related it to more familiar concepts such as privacy, territoriality, and crowding. Privacy and territoriality permit greater freedom of choice, whereas crowding can limit freedom.
Proshansky, Ittelson, and Rivlin (1970) suggested that crowding need not necessarily have negative connotations-when it limits freedom it is negative, but when it does not limit freedom or even enhances a freer feeling, e.g., as in instances of deindividuation discussed by Festinger, Pepitone, and Newcomb(1952), then it is preferred.
An individual’s feeling of dominance in a situation is based on the extent to which he feels unrestricted or free to act in a variety of ways. This feeling can be hampered by settings which limit the forms of behavior and enhanced by settings which facilitate a greater variety of behaviors. For instance, an individual has greater freedom, and therefore a feeling of dominance, in his own territory (e.g., listening to music at home relative to doing so in a concert hall; or reading the same book in his office rather than in a library). A kitchen or an office that is well stocked with a variety of tools facilitates more behaviors (and enhances a feeling of dominance) than one which is sparsely equipped. Flexible interior decorations, such as movable room partitions, adjustable levels of lighting, or movable furniture allow many arrangements suited to a greater variety of activities. Thus, relative to others which are fixed and difficult to change, such flexible arrangements are conducive to a feeling of dominance.
Physical stimuli which are rated as more intense, more ordered and powerful on the semantic differential are associated with a submissive feeling for the person encountering them. For instance, an intense and/or large stimulus can constrain behavior by masking the contribution of other stimuli which might
elicit other behaviors.
For social environments, once again the dominance of the participant can be described in terms of familiar concepts. Formal social situations constrain behavior more than informal ones. Thus, ceremonial occasions in which implicit homage is paid to a higher or more potent idea or entity (e.g., a religious meeting) are typically associated with well-defined forms of behavior which are judged acceptable and distinguished from other unacceptable ones. For instance, a person has less freedom of choice (is less dominant) in the presence of others of higher status. Note the difference in the extent of behavioral freedom of a patient compared to that of a physician on a hospital ward. This is consistent with the more general idea that there is an inverse relationship between a dominant feeling and the potency of the environment.
This dimension of emotional response to environments has received little attention from investigators. There is a lack of data on how the physical aspects of a situation determine the feeling of dominance or on how dominance influences other behaviors. For this reason the above comments are offered tentatively at this point and are only suggested by evidence from the semantic differential.

Mehrabian & Russell (1974)

Eight basic temperaments and their variations

Mehrabian (1987; 1991) developed eight basic temperaments and their variations, defined in the PAD-model (Pleasure, Arousal, Dominance).
exuberant +P+A+D vs. bored -P-A-D
dependent +P+A-D vs. disdainful -P-A+D
relaxed +P-A+D vs. anxious -P+A-D
docile +P-A-D vs. hostile – P+A+D

  • Exuberant= + Pleasure, + Arousal, + Dominance. Related emotions are extrovert, outgoing, happy, social.
  • Bored = – Pleasure, – Arousal, – Dominance. Related emotions are sad, lonely, socially withdrawn, physically inactive.
  • Dependent = + Pleasure, + Arousal, – Dominance. Related emotions are attached to people, helpless, interpersonal positive and social.
  • Disdainful = – Pleasure, – Arousal, + Dominance. Related emotions are jealous, loner, withdrawn and calculated, sometimes anti-social.
  • Relaxed = + Pleasure, – Arousal, + Dominance. Related emotions are comfortable, confident, self-assured, able to withstand stress.
  • Anxious = – Pleasure, + Arousal, – Dominance. Related emotions are worried, nervous, insecure, tense, unhappy, easily sick.
  • Docile = + Pleasure, – Arousal, – Dominance. Related emotions are pleasant, unemotional, indulgent, kind, behave appropriately.
  • Hostile = – Pleasure, + Arousal, + Dominance. Related emotions are angry, negative emotional, possibly violent.
Heavy, tight and hard

Rooms painted black appear much smaller than white ones. Black furniture dominates the space. In the most positive case they appear representative, in the most negative case they are oppressive. A black sofa appears to be harder than a white one. Colours influence the impression one gets of size, weight and material. Boxes with a light colour will be assessed less heavily than dark ones. The impression of the weight is not only due to the colour. The material usually gives the deciding factor. Every effect is the sum of all experiences.
(Heller, 1989)

im-balanced lines

An oblique line indicates an unstable situation, which causes unrest. Objects are found calmer, stronger and more controlled with more balance in the image and more restless, unstable and uncontrolled with an increasing degree of imbalance in the image (Van Rompay et al., 2005).

Impulsivity, extraversion and psychoticism

Impulsivity (as opposing to reflectivity) correlates quite well with extraversion, but even better with psychoticism
(Eysenck & Eysenck, 1985)

Oblique lines and instability

An oblique line indicates an unstable situation, which causes unrest. Objects are found calmer, stronger and more controlled with more balance in the image and more restless, unstable and uncontrolled with an increasing degree of imbalance in the image (Van Rompay et al., 2005).

Testosterone and shape

There is a possible relationship with the testosterone hormone. The amount of testosterone in the blood expresses the willingness to win and the degree of sense of domination. Carney et al. (2010) investigated the influence of different attitudes on the power radiation of the people, measured by two hormone values, cortisol and testosterone. The amount of cortisol is a measure of the amount of stress that a person has. The different attitudes that were tested differed in two non-verbal dimensions that are universally linked to power. These dimensions are: expansiveness: taking up more or less space, and openness: arms and legs together or spread out. People with an open and large posture have an increased amount of testosterone and a reduced amount of cortisol in the blood. With that, they radiate more power. In contrast, people with a closed and contracted posture have a reduced amount of testosterone and an increased amount of cortisol in the blood. That means that they are radiating more powerlessness.

Verticality in product labels and shelves as a metaphorical cue to quality

This study investigates how subtle visual cues related to the design of a product’s package (i.e., label position) and the context (i.e., shelf orientation) influence consumer evaluation and behavioral intention. Extending research on metaphorical cues, Study 1 shows that consumers perceive a product as more powerful when the label on the package is placed in a higher (vs. lower) vertical position. Extending the focus from package design to the display context of packages, Study 2 shows that consumer perception of a product’s power is similarly enhanced when the package is placed on a shelf that is vertically (vs. horizontally) orientated. Across both studies effects of enhanced power perception extend to positively influence product quality inferences and behavioral intentions. These findings add to current knowledge on metaphorical cues in package design and the package’s presentation context and offer insights into the underlying mechanism.

(Machiels & Orth, 2017)