Motivation and emotion/Book/2018/Emoticons, emoji, and the electronic communication of emotion

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Emoticons, emoji, and the electronic communication of emotion:
What role do emoticons and emoji play in the electronic communication of emotion?

Overview[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail] Key questions:

  • What are emoticons and emojis? How do they differ?
  • Relevant theories.
  • What roles do emoticons and emojis play in the emotion role of individuals?
  • Social medias contribution - different types of cultures and marketing strategies on emotion.
  • Future studies.

Case Study[edit | edit source]

Emoticons and emojis have taken the electronic community by storm. First appearing as =-] to ensure that the recipient of the message would know that the message is well intended and not to have a negative effect on peoples[grammar?] emotions. However, with emoticons evolving into emojis does miscommunication occur? Do senders and receivers misinterpret the emoticons and emojis? How does this change a persons emotions due to a pixel character?

Abby has sent Will a text message saying; "I'm on point with this outfit!" containing a Woman tipping hand emoji. Abby's intention behind the emoji is to indicate that she feels as though her outfit is amazing and the emoji she has used is flipping its hair - indicating sass. However, when Will receives this message he thinks that the emoji represents an information person at a desk. Hence he is confused, and thinks that Abby is weird - considering she doesn't work as an information person. Due to miscommunication Will replies asking if Abby has gotten a new job. Abby is now confused by what Will means, and it will take a few more messages between the two to figure out what was originally meant. 
Susan has recently gotten[grammar?] a job as the new online marketing manager. She is in her early twenties and has a fresh insight on how to get the business name out into the world. She creates a social media page for the company, posting a photo with a hash-tagged emoji.  "New job, loving the vibes." She has written with the Smiling face with heart emoji and the Red heart emoji. Emoji's[grammar?] which she knew placed in the top four on international emoji day. Within a few hours, the new social media page has over 1,000 new followers encouraging Susan to make similar posts in the future. 

What are emoticons and emojis?[edit | edit source]

Emoticons and emojis often get confused and categorized as the same thing. Emoticon is a shortened word for 'emotional icon' (Wolf, 2004). Scott Fahlman is claimed to be the first to trademark an emoticon[factual?]. Emoticons are combinations of characters such as =-] (a happy face rotated 270 degrees). In the early days of the internet, users could only use text to convey messages to each other, resulting in forums becoming disorderly due to miscommunication (Lee J.S. 2016). Fahlman created the first emoticon in order to convey emotions in text so that sarcastic statements would not be taken seriously. The smiley face soon inundated emails, forums and chat rooms. Emoticons can be said to have evolved into emojis. An Emoji, first created by Shigetaka Kurita in 1999, are 12x12 pixels that each create a unique picture. It is estimated that 5 billion emojis are sent each day on Facebook Messenger (Armus, T. 2017). These statistics came out after international emoji day, (July 17th) created by Emojipedia , the original website for all emoji meanings. Emojis are now integrated in the majority of smartphones around the world.

Figure 1: A happy emoji to some people, or a waving emoji to others.

Relevant theories[edit | edit source]

In order to grasp the concept of how emoticons and emojis effect the electronic community emotionally, its important to understand what theories can be applied and how emotions are effected.

Psycho linguistic theory[edit | edit source]

Herbert Clark's psycholinguistic theory of language is the study of how people use language (Clark 2002). The theory suggests that interpretation needs to be consistent between two people in order to avoid miscommunication (Miller 2016). In the instance of emojis, a person is sending the emoji to a receiver through a computer setup or mobile device. Likewise, the receiver is receiving the emoji via a computer setup or mobile device. In this exchange, miscommunication can occur from different interpretations from either 1) the same rendering of the emoji and they see the same rendering or 2) different renderings, if they each see a different rendering. Psycholinguistic theory demonstrates that the consistency between receiving and sending emojis is not always perceived in the same way, therefore miscommunication between people happen.

Relevance theory[edit | edit source]

Sperber and Wilson developed the relevance theory. The relevance theory is an attempt to explain the process which is involved in recovering meaning through implication. It is based upon assuming that the human cognitive process is oriented towards achieving the highest cognitive impact with the least amount of effort. To be able to do this an inferencing process must be initiated. Inference can be defined as a conclusion that is automatically drawn based on context and prior knowledge.

Figure 2. Another easily mistaken emoji. Is it thinking hard? Or is it praying with it's[grammar?] hands clasped together?

The relevance theory can explain the process which individuals go through when they receive an emoticon or emoji from certain individuals. The highest cognitive effect is occurring but with the least effort.

A study conducted by C Kelly (2015) found that 70% of students in their conducted experiment recorded that they interpret emoticons/emojis differently depending on who wrote the message.

"The sender or receiver of a message relies on the context, in combination with the requisite pre-knowledge, in order to understand or make the message understood. In this case, the context is dependent on either an emoticon as a symbol or a feeling as an emoji. It is thus easy to understand the usage of different emoticons/ emojis, depending on by whom, when and how a message should be understood." (Kelly, 2015)

Social cognitive theory[edit | edit source]

The social cognitive theory suggests that individuals can learn by observing others (Bandura 1986). This theory also argues that a person's behavior is shaped and controlled by the influences of social network. This could mean that if a person sees a celebrity has used a certain emoticon or emoji online and received a positive reaction from their audience, that person may also mimic the same emoticon or emoji in their own tweet. The emotional reward can be perceived as high, hence why many individuals will mimic how celebrities and influences use emojis.

Example: Abby sees that Beyonce has posted a tweet, with a bunch of Smiling faces with heart shaped eyes. Abby feels that if she does a similar tweet with the same emoji she will also get a positive reaction. This makes Abby feel happy and excited, her emotions are driving her to tweet like Beyonce did. 

James-Lange theory[edit | edit source]

The James-Lange theory of emotion can heavily influence the emotions which an individual feels when they receive an emoticon or emoji within a message. This theory of emotion can be argued to occur when an individual receives an emoji within a message. Dopamine controls the "pleasure" system of the brain, and is released when there is enjoyment or pleasure. This can be applied to the James-Lange theory as the theory states "stimulus - emotion - bodily reaction". The stimulus would be receiving the emoji, the emotion would be how the individual reacts to the emoji, and the bodily reaction could be a number of different physical attributes depending on the nature of the message. In recent studies it has been reported that individuals release a surge of dopamine when receiving messages from certain people. Therefore, indicating that the James-Lange theory is occurring[grammar?].

How emojis and emoticons affect individual responses[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Social medias[grammar?] influence[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Cultural differences[edit | edit source]

The cultural differences associated with emoticons and emojis are vast. Firstly, emoticons can be either horizontal or vertical, the horizontal style is known to be preferred by western countries, and the vertical style by eastern countries (J, Park, 2013). A study by Park, Barash, Fink and Cha found that determining emoticon style is due to language rather than geography. It was also found that the contexts and sentiments that were frequently associated with a certain emoticon changed from one culture to another. Their findings encouraged that facial expression may not be universal, as supported by Jack Et Al (2012). People form[spelling?] different cultures perceive facial expressions in different ways, as westerners smile and frown with their mouths, easterners smile and frown with their eyes. These traits and physical emotional changes may also be the case in the electronic community. Emoticons and emojis have become a large part of nonverbal communication, being a large body of language and facial expressions in electronic media. Emotional changes can occur rapidly due to a different understanding of each emoticon or emoji.

For example: In an article written by Emojipedia, they have had to explain to their audience that "No, the OK Hand 👌 is not a symbol of white power. The 👌 OK Hand is seen as offensive in some cultures, including in parts of Europe, the Middle East, and South America, due to vulgar associations.  This gesture is occasionally paired with other emojis, such as 👉 (Backhand Index Pointing Right), to suggest sexual acts (👉👌).
Figure 2: A sad emoji[Provide more detail].

Gang related[edit | edit source]

Although emoticons and emojis were made for a greater purpose, unfortunately some environments and situation have turned these figures into a negative response and or message.

Recent research suggests Internet banging has resulted in serious injury and homicide. Internet banging is usually in the [missing something?] where youths brag, insult or threat another individual ( D Patton, 2016). Online bullying has increased and so has real life violence[factual?]. Users would often attach the gun emoji within their text, to increase their threat. Due to this implication all platforms changed the gun emoji to a water pistol. Apple was the first to change the gun emoji in 2016, by 2018 all smartphones have changed the emoji to a water pistol as well.

Marketing[edit | edit source]

Marketing teams have come up with many new and stimulating ways in which to capture their audience. In recent years, businesses have changed their tactics and now try to cater for younger audiences. Adolescence[spelling?] seemingly talk in a different way than adults, expressing their emotions electronically and without restrain[factual?]. Marketing teams have picked up on this and utilized it. Not only is this evident in promoting movies, such as Deadpool, but a study conducted by Peter Zimmermann (2014) encourage these findings[vague][explain?]. With emoji's[grammar?] increasing in usage in the marketing and advertising world, it is important that bushiness are utilizing these tools, otherwise they could impact the companies quality of the responses from an online consumers review or purchase intent. By understanding how young peoples[grammar?] emotions work and how they communicate with each other through the electronic community, marketing has been able to adapt and change their skills; which essentially is changing allot[spelling?] more then just marketing, it is changing how people emotionally handle virtual emotions.

Celebrities such as Kim Kardashian West have also made changes to emojis. Kim K has evolved the emoji once more, and created her own brand of 'KIMOJI.' KIMOJI by Kim Kardashian West gives you access to 1000+ unique emojis. 

Quiz[edit | edit source]

Let's test your knowledge and see what you remember!

1 1. What is an emoji?

15x15 pixel that makes up a certain image
A =-)
A character that is always pictured as happy
12x12 pixels that each create a unique picture

2 2. What does 👌 emoji mean according to Emojipedia?

A hidden meme where friends try to fool each other with 👌
An Ok hand sign
Signifying the number zero
an emoji demonstrating how to hold a pencil

3 3. What does the psycholinguistic theory suggest about emotions?

That miscommunication is the leading factor between two people sending and receiving emojis.
That without emojis conversation is pointless
That people feel fulfilled when they receive a emoticon or emoji.
That psycho linguistic theory has no effect on emojis or emoticons.

4 4. What is a KIMOJI?

An acronym for a type of emoji
A celebrities[grammar?] own branding of an emoji
A sticky out tongue face emoji
A made up word

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

A few simple dashes and brackets placed together have changed the way people interact with each other electronically. What started out as one smiley face to reduce conflict online, has turned into a mass evolution of billions of emojis. Emojis have seemingly replaced emoticons in only a few years. Although the internet is still considered to be young, huge advancements have been made in the ways in which people communicate. The majority of peer reviewed articles on emoticons and emojis are limited, as it is still a new and developing subject[Provide more detail]. The articles that circulate this topic[awkward expression?] mainly revolve around how to understand, and how the emoticons and emojis effect[grammar?] adolescents. Miscommunication is the biggest hurdle when it comes to understanding emoticons and emojis. Based on the results found from current literature, theories on emotion are infrequently used to support the research, key terms such as sentiment, emotion or opinion, and not always defined precisely.

Further research should be done into the effects emoticons and emojis have on the electronic community. At the moment with limited peer-reviewed literature it would be beneficial for researchers to look into the emotional state that each emoticon and emoji have on individuals, not just focusing on a younger audience. It would be interesting to see the implications on an older target audience. The work which has been done has so far provides lots of valuable insight, and now serves as a good basis for asking how everyone can do better research within this field[vague].

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Armus, Teo. (2017). ''World Emoji Day: 5 Billion Emojis Are Sent Daily on Messenger, Facebook Says''. Retrieved from: Sent-on-Facebook-Every-Day-434955323.html

Bandura A, 1986. Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Clark H and Mija M. Wege V. 2002. Psycholinguistics. Chapter 6. Retrieved from:,%20H.H.%20_%20Van%20Der%20Wege,%20M.M.%20_Psycholingustics_%202002.pdf

Kageyama, Yuri. (2017). Shigetaka Kurita: ''The man who invented the emoji''. Retrieved from:

Kelly C. 2015. Do you know what I mean > :( A linguistic study of the understanding of emoticons and emojis in text messages. Halmstad University. Retrieved from:

L. J.S. (2016) Emoticons. In: Ethical Ripples of Creativity and Innovation. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Meisser A, 2015. The Benefits and Drawbacks of Physical Activity According to Social Media: a Content Analysis of Celebrities' Posts on Twitter and Instagram. University Honors Theses. Paper 203.

Miller H, Thebault-Spieker J, Chang S, Johnson I, Terveen L, Hecht B. (2016). ''“Blissfully happy” or “ready to fight”: Varying Interpretations of Emoji.'' Retrieved from:

Patton D U, Lane J, Patrick Leonard, Macbeth J, Smith-Lee J R. 2016. Gang violence on the digital street: Case study of a South Side Chicago gang member’s Twitter communication.

R. E Jack.; Garrod, O. G. B.; Yu, H.; Caldara, R.; and Schyns, P. G. 2012. Facial expressions of emotion are not culturally universal. PNAS 109(19):7241–7244.

Wolf A. (2004). Emotional Expression Online: Gender Differences in Emoticon Use. Retrieved from:

Zimmermann P and Iwanski A, 2014. Emotion regulation from early adolescence to emerging adulthood and middle adulthood: Age differences, gender differences, and emotion-specific developmental variations. Special section: Emotion regulation across the life span. 38 182–194

External links[edit | edit source]