Popular emoticons

People who perceive themselves as agreeable, conscientious and open are more likely to use “happy” emoticons

Researchers from Edge Hill University have discovered that emoticons are potentially just as important as smiling and our tone of voice in influencing people’s opinions of us according to a new study published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour.

The research, which was undertaken by the Department of Psychology at Edge Hill University in collaboration with colleagues at Australian Catholic University, explored why we use emoticons and more importantly, how this varies across different virtual environments.

More than 90 participants completed an online questionnaire using a rating scale to indicate the extent to which they used emoticons on platforms such as Facebook, email, and text messages. They also gave qualitative answers explaining why they used emoticons on these specific platforms.

Co-author of the report, Dr Linda Kaye from Edge Hill University’s Department of Psychology, said the study revealed a number of important themes surrounding emoticon usage as an extension of our personalities.

“A key finding of our ongoing research is that the emoticons we use, particularly on social networking sites such as Facebook, are used as a way of helping others form personality judgements about us.

“For example, the more smiley emoticons we use, the more people judge us to be agreeable, conscientious and open to new experiences. It’s clear that we need to be aware of our online behaviours, as these play a role in the way in which we form impressions of each other,” she said.

Dr Helen Wall added that upcoming studies will look into how emoticons could assist individuals who struggle to interpret and express emotion via text-based messages.

“Emoticons offer an important interpersonal function, particularly for the user. Our findings showed that people felt emoticons can aid personal expression, reduce ambiguity and lighten the mood.

“This notion of reducing ambiguity may have important implications for individuals who find it difficult to interpret emotion online when only textual cues are available. We are currently developing a series of studies to explore the utility of emoticon usage in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder,” she said.

Edge Hill University is developing a reputation as a leading researcher in the field of digital and social media psychology.

The recent W series ON, saw radio DJ Sara Cox turn to science in order to discover what it means to be a ‘friend’ in 2015 and whether friendships conducted on Facebook can compare to real world friendships.

Using an MRI machine, Dr Joanne Powell, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Edge Hill University, scanned Sara’s brain to see whether there are physical indications of true friendship.

“While Sara was in the MRI scanner, we projected photos of her close friends, as well as those of acquaintances and complete strangers to measure activity in the brain,” Dr Powell said.

“What we discovered was that when Sara was processing images of her friends, including her nearest and dearest and acquaintances, she called upon her long-term memories of those people and attached emotions to them.

“The results suggest that we find our best friends to be the most rewarding of all. When we use social media and see our Facebook ‘friends’ we might be receiving some sort of reward, but this is nowhere near as psychologically rewarding as the experience of seeing our four or five best friends in real life,” she said.

To read the full studies on what your emoticons are saying about you go to http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563216301522 and http://authors.elsevier.com/a/1Sobs2f~UVz6-u


Pre-recorded MP3 radio grabs featuring Drs Linda Kaye and Helen Wall: