Emojis may be taking over facial movements and body gestures, with more than 90% of online population now using typographic displays in texts and emails, say scientists who are trying to decode what their use may reveal about the human behaviour.
Early studies have found that these typographic displays can aid in cross-cultural communication and provide insights into user personalities, information that could be of interest to disciplines ranging from linguistics to marketing.
“We mostly use emojis like gestures, as a way of enhancing emotional expressions,” said Linda Kaye from Edge Hill University in the UK.
“There are a lot of idiosyncrasies in how we gesture, and emojis are similar to that, especially because of the discrepancies as to how and why we use them,” said Kaye.
Emojis and emoticons, popular on social media sites and messaging apps, are not just for millennials. A 2014 survey of 1,000 people in the US showed only 54% of emoticon users were in the age range of 18-34.
Communicating via smiley face may actually be more closely related to personality than age.
“If you look at personality traits, like agreeableness, how amenable you are to other people, it seems to be related to whether you use emojis or not,” Kaye said.
Psychologists also want to use online data to understand how communicating via emojis and emoticons can provide insights into social inclusion.
Depending on how we use emojis, these simple displays of virtual emotion can impact how we perceive each other.
“People are making judgments about us based on how we use emojis, and they’re not necessarily accurate,” Kaye said.
“What we need to be aware of is that those judgments might differ depending on where or with whom you’re using those emojis, such as in the workplace or between family members,” she said.
Questions regarding emojis as a true portrayal of emotion remain unanswered, but in the coming years, fuelled by cyber psychological insights – those that are within the context of how we interact with technology – researchers hope to understand how emojis might serve as the intersection between in-person and online interactions and how human nature can be reflected through digital media.
The study was published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences.