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Men and women interpret and use emojis in a completely different way, new study finds

The research that involved 523 participants yielded inferences that seemed to pave the way for better sentimental analysis.

Men and women interpret and use emojis in a completely different way, new study finds
Representative Cover Image Source: Pexels | Pixabay; The Irish News | Dr Ruth Filik

From social networking to advertising, people are now conveying emotions and moods through emojis. The little icons have become so significant in our lives that there's no chat window without one. When words can't convey our feelings, emojis can. However, a recent study found that how people perceive emojis might vary based on different factors. This month, experts Yihua Chen, Xingchen Yang, Hannah Howman and Ruth Filik from the School of Psychology, University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom published an article titled: "Individual differences in emoji comprehension: Gender, age, and culture" on PLOS ONE. The results of this study revealed some amazing possibilities.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Kindel Media
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Kindel Media

As per the study, men and women interpret emojis differently. The researchers attribute the ambiguity and the varied perceptions people have over these little digital pictograms widely used for expressing one's idea or emotion. Among the 523 participants in this study, 49% were men and 51% were women. They picked 24 different emojis from digital platforms like Apple, Windows, Android and WeChat that convey one of the six emotional states - happy, disgusted, fearful, sad, surprised and angry. The result showed that women were capable of interpreting happy, fearful, sad and angry emojis more accurately than men.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Roman Odintsov
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Roman Odintsov

Associate Professor and the study's co-author, Dr Ruth Filik, told the Irish News, "What I found most interesting and surprising is that there are so many individual differences in how people interpret these emojis. It is important to note that the results reflect how often participants labeled the emoji in the same way as the researchers." The researchers implied at the end of the study that this difference in perception was not because one person was better at interpreting than the other but because of individual differences in the participants. "We should keep these differences in mind when using emojis in our messages," Filik added.

While sending emojis with texts, emails or social media captions, the researchers warn people of the prospective ambiguity that may arise as different people perceive them differently. Moreover, this study delved into other factors, such as age and nationality, that impact how people interpret emojis. Among the participants, 270 were from the UK and 253 were from China and their ages ranged between 8 to 84 years old. As per the study's inference, younger adults matched the emojis with their emotion labels better than older people. Also, the experts noticed people from the UK interpreted emojis the same as the researchers' labels compared to the Chinese participants, who weren't on par with the researchers in labeling the digital icons.

Since the study mainly checked if the participants' interpretations matched those of the researchers, they emphasized that this was to understand to what extent people misinterpreted emojis. "For example, if Chinese participants use a smiling emoji to indicate they are being sarcastic, then they may be less likely to label it as ‘happy’ than UK participants," Filik explained. For those wondering about the purpose of this study, it was mainly to improve the accuracy in classifying sentiments. The study highlighted how this sentimental analysis can come in handy for digital advertising, where organizations might have to convey the right message with the right emoji to their target audience.

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