Do emojis show true emotions and reveal a person’s personality and intentions? That’s the question being asked by psychologists at Edge Hill University.

In a journal article published on 17 January, Dr Linda Kaye and Dr Helen Wall ask whether the use of emojis on social networking sites can help us understand human personality and behaviour.

With 92% of the online population using them, they believe that by studying this communication we can gather information to understand human emotions and our perceptions of each other.

Dr Linda Kaye

Dr Linda Kaye

Linda Kaye said: “Research into the use and interpretation of emojis is in its infancy but it has already been shown that they serve important nonverbal functions in communication and can even provide an insight into the user’s personality.

 

“Previous research has explored the neural processes in the brain and how this differs for sentences with and without emojis. Interestingly, those with emojis activated both the left and right sides of the brain.

“The right side is typically an area associated with the control of emotions, which suggests a different psychological response to emojis than in verbal tasks when typically the left side of the brain is primarily dominant.”

She added: “There is a need for us to study online behaviour to gain further insights into human behaviour. If we can understand online behaviour, the way people think and behave then we could also potentially predict behaviour in the ‘real’ world.

“This is particularly important when considering deviance online and how we can use online data as screening tools to help predict or tackle criminal behaviour.”

The full article is written with Stephanie Malone from Australian Catholic University in Australia and is available to read in January’s edition of Trends in Cognitive Science (Cell).