Use of Emoji: Their Cyberpsychology and Value

Several experts have been weighing in on the use of emoji. Why are they so popular? (Do I have to use them?) What do they accomplish? Do they make our writing lazy? Or do they make it clearer?

In addition, will the animated The Emoji Movie, opening today, answer any of these questions?

Maybe it’s wiser to turn to more studious resources. For instance, The Emoji Code: The Linguistics Behind Smiley Faces and Scaredy Cats by cognitive linguist Vyvyan EvansAs he’s written in a Psychology Today post: “They enable us to punctuate the otherwise emotionally arid landscape of text with personal expression, which helps enrich the texture of the message, enabling us to communicate and elicit empathy—a central requirement of effective communication…”

In essence, Evans is all for emoji and believes they represent the world’s first universal language. (I always thought we had that in music?).

Another researcher, cyberpsychologist Linda Kaye, points out (Vice) that these little symbols are actually similar to our use of hand gestures, yet more thought out than most real-world types of nonverbal communication:

If you’re interacting with somebody and you smile, in most cases that wasn’t intentional. You just naturally smiled because of what they or you were saying. But if you’re putting a smiley face at the end of a text message or Facebook comment, you don’t do that without careful consideration. You might pause and think, ‘Is this appropriate? Is this going to be misconstrued? Are they going to think I’m a bit of a douchebag?’ You think about that smile in ways you wouldn’t out in the real world. It becomes a conscious, premeditated process rather than a reflexive, unconscious response.

In the meantime, though, one problematic issue noted by Vyv Evans (per Douglas Heaven, New Scientist) is the accuracy—or not—of getting a proper read on others’ use of these things: “…Many have acquired insider meanings. How emojis look also differs between devices, which can have serious consequences. Several people have been arrested for sending messages with emojis judged to be threatening. In one US case, 17-year-old Osiris Aristy was charged under antiterrorism laws for a Facebook post in which gun emojis were placed next to a police officer emoji. A grand jury refused to take the matter further.”

Monica A. Riordan, PhD, Psychology Today, argues, however, that we can make them work for us and that they’re “perfectly suited to be tools” of our close relationships’ “emotion work”: “Not only are they able to convey a great deal, but the meaning is whatever the receiver wants it to be. Thus, rather than taking the risk of saying the wrong thing, my husband simply texts a heart emoji instead. Because I want my husband to be supportive of me, I choose to interpret the heart emoji in a positive way. Thus the communication is successful; our relationship is preserved. It does not really matter whether I correctly interpreted exactly what he meant when he sent the emoji.”

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What kind of people use emoji anyway? Meera Senthilingam, CNN, gleaned the following from Kaye’s research: “One key finding was that the people using them tend to be more agreeable in nature…
Another factor her team identified was that people who commonly used emoji were more socially receptive and empathetic, making them more approachable…”

So, make friends with an emoji user today?

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