You might want to think twice before finishing a text with a frown face or angry icon. As harmless as it might seem, chances are your recipient will regard you as a downer.
But you were being ironic. You meant it as a joke. What’s wrong with people . . . insert head-exploding emoji here.
Doesn’t matter. A new study at the University of Ottawa’s School of Psychology has found that using negative emojis in text messages produces a negative perception of the sender, regardless of their true intent. Insert head-scratching emoji here.
In the study, researchers tracked the eye movements of 38 undergraduate students shown sentences that were either negative, positive, or neutral. Each sentence was accompanied by a negative, positive or neutral emoji, or no emoji at all. Participants were then asked to rate each message in terms of the emotional state of the sender and how warm they found them to be.
In the findings, the sender’s mood was perceived as negative when a negative emoji and/or a negative sentence was presented. Indeed, the presence of a negative emoji intensified the perceived negativity of negative sentences – like applying a knuckle-duster to a fist. On the other hand, adding a positive emoji to a message increased the perceived warmth of the sender.
“Emojis are consequential and have an impact on the interpretation of the sender by the receiver,” says study author Isabelle Boutet, a Professor in Psychology. “If you display any form of negativity it is going to be interpreted negatively. You’re going to be perceived as a person who is cold, and you will come across as being in a negative mood, regardless of the tone.”
If that weren’t bad enough, the researchers also found people struggle to interpret sarcasm or irony. There goes that winking emoji.
The difficulty in decoding emojis could be due to their relative newness. We’ve only had 20 years or so to figure them out, with new ones created almost weekly. Face-to-face interactions, by comparison, have evolved over millennia, ensuring emotional reactions to facial cues are hardwired, Boutet says.
Another issue is the casual, often whimsical manner in which emojis are deployed. It’s a far cry from the control exercised in face-to-face conversations, in which you often mask your true emotions to avoid conflict.
Ultimately, you should put a little more thought into your emoji game and consider how that digital frown might go down, Boutet advises.
“You should not think that emojis are a cute little thing that you add in a text message and that it has no consequence on your interaction,” she says. “Emojis have large consequences and a strong impact on how your text message will be interpreted and how you will be perceived.”
Point taken: ☺