A new study by a communications student at the University of Ottawa looks at emojis, small digital images used to express an emotion, represent a character or action, how they affect the way we communicate and their ability to change the meaning of a message.
Olivier Langlois, examines the role and impact of emojis in text messages for his master's thesis titled, ‘L’impact des émojis sur la perception affective des messages textes’, (the impact of emojis on the perception of text messages). He chose emojis as his subject because they have not “yet been explored much,” despite the fact that they have a “real impact on people's lives.”
“Emojis are not as corny as you might think. They are a social phenomenon and a universal language. They can help people who have difficulty expressing themselves show their feelings, such as children and the elderly,” says Langlois.
For the study, 156 participants from the University of Ottawa School of Psychology completed an online questionnaire between May and October 2018. Each participant received one of three versions of a survey with either positive, negative or no emojis, and were asked to record their reactions to the text messages. An analysis was then made based on the results. Langlois says his findings led him to make several interesting discoveries.
“We made several discoveries following our quantitative survey. Adding a positive emoji to a text message in a romantic context is recommended. In a friendly context, it is not recommended to add negative emojis to text messages on a positive topic,’ says the study’s author, adding that, “And using negative emojis in a professional context is not recommended. In a professional context, women react more negatively than men to negative emojis and those 25 and over react more negatively to emojis (positive or negative) than those 16 to 24 years old.”
“As for our qualitative questions, they allowed us to discover that people prefer to receive emojis from young people, women and people who are not in a position of authority. We also discovered why people want to use emojis and why they would sometimes want to avoid them,” he says.
“Contrary to what one might think, the use of positive emojis in a professional context is not discouraged. Our research also allowed us to get our hands on some interesting data: the recycling emoji is the third most used on Twitter (for a surprising reason!),” he says. “Men who use emojis on dating sites and applications are more likely to have sex with their pen pal. Finally, using less and less emojis with someone means that the relationship is deteriorating.”
The author also points out that the understanding and interpretation of emojis vary from one person to another, which can lead to misunderstandings.
“It is a universal language that crosses the barriers of oral languages,” he added. “In my opinion, emojis are a reflection of the world in which we live and studying these small images is not only a matter of communication, but also of psychology and sociology.”