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Why do we use emoji?

Emoticons are widely used in social media conversations. | Font: Photo by Domingo Alvarez E on Unsplash

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Imagine that you wake up in the morning and receive the following message on your mobile phone:

What a party! 🤩

You will almost certainly conclude that it was a very entertaining event. But what happens if, while checking your phone, you find this other one?:

What a party! 👿

When we talk face to face with other people, we convey both verbal (message) and non-verbal (intonation, body language, gestures, and facial expressions) information. The latter plays an essential role in correctly deciphering the meaning of the message and the intention of the sender. So, in the second example, most of us will conclude that the party failed.

The way we communicate has undergone major changes at the turn of this century. Our social interaction has become virtual through mobile phones and social networks. This situation has given rise to new forms of written communication with undeniable positives, but with an obvious limitation: the lack of a non-verbal ingredient present in face-to-face communication.

To mitigate this shortcoming, emoticons were invented. The Unicode Emoji v.15 standard system combines more than 3000 emoji that represent faces, gestures, people, professions, animals, elements of nature, buildings, objects, actions, etc.

The most famous emoticons are faces (🤓) and some other elements like hearts (💕) and gestures (🤦‍♀️ or 👌). In turn, these are emoji, which are most often used as substitutes for non-verbal communication with the dual function of conveying the emotions of the sender and clarifying the content of the message.

Emoticons and facial expressions

Do facial emojis work the same as emotional facial expressions in person? We know that facial expressions affect the observer in two ways: they allow us to infer what emotions the sender is experiencing, and they evoke affective responses in the receiver.

Through several studies, we know that the emotional intensity of messages such as “that’s smart” or “that’s stupid” increases when positive expressions are accompanied by happy emoji (😊) and negative ones by sad emoji (😔).

In addition, people experience more emotional contagion (for example, feel more depressed when reading sad text) when a written message is accompanied by an emoticon corresponding to the expressed emotion.

Finally, when we see emoticons expressing emotions, our body reacts in the same way as when we see real faces.

Is there a consensus on how we interpret its meaning?

For emoticons to become one of the main tools for expressing emotions, there must be an agreement among users about their meaning. However, the level of consensus varies greatly, and some emojis are more ambiguous than others.

In the case of emotions, some emoticons are uniquely associated with one emotion, such as 🙁 (sadness). In contrast, emojis like 😬 are associated with fourteen different emotions.

Differences in the degree of consensus on the meaning of emojis may be due to the very complexity of the emotions expressed by emojis (as is the case with some facial expressions). Another possible reason is the degree of similarity of the emoji to the emotional expression of the depicted face. In addition, individual and cultural differences among users should be taken into account.

One last thing to note is that Unicode provides a code for each emoticon, but not for the graphic symbol. This leads to the fact that its appearance can vary from one platform to another, of which there are at least 46.

Thus, if the sender and recipient use different devices, it is possible that the appearance of the sent emoji will be different from the received one. It has been observed that the meaning of some emoji, such as 😍, is very similar across platforms, while in other cases there are very noticeable discrepancies (for example, 🙌 is interpreted as a holiday on some platforms and as a prayer on different platforms). other).

Beware of ambiguity

Emoticons are used to convey emotion and clarify the content of our messages. We use them primarily in instant messaging, with friends and people in our immediate social circle, and in informal settings. Sometimes we use them just for fun or to strengthen relationships with our interlocutors. In short, emoji make digital communication easier, but be careful not to forget that our recipient will not always interpret them the way we want 😬.Talk

Pilar Ferre Romeu, Professor of the Department of Fundamental Psychology. Department of Psychology. Rovira i Virgili University. Tarragona, University of Rovira y Virgili; José Antonio Hinojosa Poveda, Professor, Department of Experimental Psychology, Cognitive Processes and Speech Therapy, Complutense University of Madrid; Juan Aro Rodriguez, Assistant Professor of Fundamental Psychology. Department of Psychology. Tarragona, University of Rovira y Virgili, and Miguel Angel Pérez-Sanchez, Professor, Department of Fundamental Psychology and Methodology, University of Murcia, University of Murcia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original.

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Source: RPP

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