A new study by researchers at the University of Ottawa’s School of Psychology has found that using negative emojis in text messages produces a negative perception of the sender, regardless of their true intention.
Isabelle Boutet, full professor in psychology at the Faculty of Social Sciences, and the results of her team are included in the study “Emojis influence emotional communication, social attributions and information processing” published in Computers in human behavior.
Study Background: The eye movements of 38 uOttawa undergraduate volunteer students were tracked and studied, and volunteers were shown a sentence-emoji pairing under 12 different conditions where the sentences could be negative , positive or neutral, accompanied by a negative emoji, emoji, neutral emoji or no emoji. With an average age of 18, participants were asked to rate each message in terms of the sender’s emotional state and how warm they found it.
Dr Boutet, whose research aims to understand how humans analyze social signals conveyed by faces, discusses the findings.
He said: “Emojis have consequences and impact the receiver’s interpretation of the sender and if you display some form of negativity – even pairing a positive emoji with a negative message – it’s going to be interpreted negatively. You will be seen as a cold person and you will appear in a negative mood when using negative emojis, regardless of the tone.
“Even if you have a positive message with a negative emoji, the recipient will interpret the sender as being in a negative mood. Any reference to negativity will determine how people interpret your emotional state when you write a text message.
“We also found that certain types of messages were more difficult to convey; people have a lot of trouble interpreting messages that are supposed to convey irony or sarcasm. “
What does this tell us about texting versus face-to-face interactions?
“People often try to control the emotion they convey with their face to avoid social conflict. Yet people use emojis for fun without giving it much thought when in fact they have a strong impact on interpersonal interactions.
“The big question is whether emojis act as proxies, do they engage the same mechanism as facial expressions of emotions that play an important role in face-to-face interactions (FTF)? With FTF interactions, we have – through evolution – developed highly evolved mechanisms that process these facial expressions of emotions. Children use a lot of these digital interactions and they risk losing the ability to interact FTF. “
How to improve the use of emojis and their meaning?
“There are a lot of emojis and a lot, we don’t even know what they mean, and people can easily misinterpret them. We are looking to develop new emojis that convey emotions in a more consistent and precise way, that mimic facial expressions of emotions better and reduce the lexicon of emojis, which could be particularly useful for older people less tech-savvy. Our goals are to develop new emojis and / or memojis that transmit clear signals that are not not so confusing. “
“You shouldn’t think of emojis as a cute little thing that you add in a text message that doesn’t affect your interaction. Emojis have big consequences and a big impact on the way your text message looks. will be interpreted and how you will be perceived. “