The use of emoji or emoticons has become far more common in our business communications, but a new study suggests that some may be misinterpreting the meaning of these cute characters.
People like to add emojis to their communications because they are sending more emails and text messages than ever before, and it’s an easy way to add emotional context, says the research posted in the science journal Computers in Human Behavior. But people should perhaps be more careful in how they use emojis, the researchers wrote.
Their study found that men and women often interpret common emoji differently, creating the potential for misunderstandings to occur. Lara Jones, a psychologist at Wayne State University in Michigan, led a team of researchers that found women tend to use emojis more than men. It is also more common with younger adults, and is more prolific when use in communication with friends than it is with bosses or work colleagues.
However, the study found that some women may read more into emojis than men. For instance, women tend to interpret neutral or ambiguous facial emojis as more negative than men do. Jones said the “thinking” emoji is a good example of this – men see it as being slightly positive, while women have a negative view of it.
The researchers also said the “smiley face with horns” and “eyebrows raised” emoji can be interpreted differently, too. Moreover, the traditional “smiley face” tends to be seen as meaning happiness by older age groups, yet it could send vibes of sarcasm or condescension to younger people. Likewise, a “skull” emoji could mean danger to some but “dying of laughter” to others.
Researchers don’t advise people to stop using emojis altogether; the symbols have become too common and important in digital conversations and can make communication feel more personal. But they suggest avoiding using them with recipients of a different generation until you learn the recipients’ communication style and preferences.