Here’s What It Means If You Can’t Stop Sending People Emojis, According To Experts
Emojis are really doing the most.
Is a text thread really a text thread without a few smiley face emojis? IMHO, the answer is no — and I’ve got scientific research on my side. Yes, emojis brighten up a message and make endless lines of text more readable, but they also reveal something about the person who sent them. “People who are rated higher in agreeableness use more emojis in general,” Lara Jones, associate professor of psychology at Wayne State University, tells Elite Daily. And no, it’s not just people-pleasing for the sake of avoiding confrontation — using emojis in messages can actually help you make your points more effectively.
Jones researches the psychological aspects of emojis, looking at differences in how individuals and groups use them, how they’re positively or negatively perceived, and the interpretation of an emoji’s intended meaning. She says people process emojis similarly to facial expressions, so starting an interaction with an objectively positive emoji, like a smiley face, primes the receiver of the message for a positive interaction. “They want to make sure that the positivity of the message comes through, and depending on the emojis used, they want to show their creativity and playfulness,” Jones says of frequent emoji users.
As you’re messaging, peppering in related emojis can help you get your point across: A study published by researchers at the University of Ottawa in Volume 119 of Computers in Human Behavior in June 2021 concluded that “congruent emojis enhance comprehension of text messages.” (Jones was not a part of this study.) This means that using plenty of relevant emojis in your messages helps the receiver better understand what you’re trying to say — and the person on the other end may even comprehend the message more quickly. This is true for both positive and negative messages: Positive messages with correlating emojis (like smileys and heart eyes) and negative messages with negative emojis (like a sad face) “magnify their perceived emotional intensity,” according to the authors of the study.
So, if you’re happy and you (want other people to) know it, keep those smiley emojis comin’. Plus, the study found that messages meant to convey something negative, like criticism or an insult, were seen by the receiver as “less intense” when a smiley emoji was added.
The authors of the study concluded that the results “support the use of emojis, and in particular positive emojis, to improve communication, express feelings, and make a positive impression during socially-driven digital interactions.” If your knee-jerk reaction is to simply respond with a smiley emoji when the group chat starts making plans, you’re not being lazy, you’re actually letting everyone know you’re ready to have a good time. When you want to put in your two cents, you can add in some positive emojis to make sure there’s no doubt about where you stand on the weekend plans.
In a February 2020 study published in Volume 108 of Computers in Human Behavior by Jones and researchers at Wayne State University, they looked at “sex differences in emoji use, familiarity, and valence.” Using the gender binary of male and female, the study concluded that women rated the negative emojis as more negative than the men did, and women were more familiar with and used emojis more often. However, there was no difference in valence (positivity/negativity) judgments for the positive emojis between men and women.
To keep the vibes immaculate in your most frequently used emojis, take a cue from the highest-rated positive emoji overall in the study: smiling face with heart-eyes, which was followed by face with tears of joy and face blowing a kiss. Smiling face with smiling eyes was the fifth most positive emoji, just behind smiling face with halo.
Not all emojis are created equal once you’re out of smiley territory, so it’s best to make sure whoever you message is on the same emoji-meaning page. When Jones was tapped by WhatsApp as the messaging app introduced emoji reactions in May 2022, she revealed that the folded hands emoji, for instance, has a range of meanings across cultures. “It can mean different things across different regions, different cultures, even just within the [United States],” she tells Elite Daily, adding that it can indicate praying, humble gratitude, or showing thanks. “It can vary by both the culture and the context.”
But don’t let ambiguity keep you from sending non-smiley emojis. If you’re chatting with, say, your best friend or SO, you can free yourself up to get more creative. “You’re more likely to have some emojis that are just meaningful to the two of you,” Jones explains of the phenomenon called lexical entrainment. She says lexical entrainment is when “you have the meaning developed from the conversation back and forth and just knowing each other from the relationship that exists.” Messages you have with people you talk to the most might even have strings of emojis that make no sense to anyone but the two of you.
When you’re not sure what to send someone you don’t message as often, it’s best to keep it simple and send that yellow smiley face — when in doubt, (positive) emoji it out.
Boutet, I., LeBlanc, M., Chamberland, J. A., & Collin, C. A. (2021). Emojis influence emotional communication, social attributions, and information processing. Computers in Human Behavior, 119, 106722. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2021.106722
Jones, L. L., Wurm, L. H., Norville, G. A., & Mullins, K. L. (2020). Sex differences in emoji use, familiarity, and Valence. Computers in Human Behavior, 108, 106305. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2020.106305
Lara Jones, associate professor of psychology at Wayne State University, Ph.D. in Psychology, University of Georgia