Deciphering modern day online conversation comes easy to the average Millennial. Excessive wink faces, not enough exclamation points, and the use of a dreaded full stop all translate to very precise, very clear meanings. As such, the news that people who use emoji are friendlier than those don't may not come as a great revelation to many of us; it might, however, remind us of how important emoji really are in the 21st century.
According to the paper psychologists Linda Kaye, Stephanie Malone and Helen Wall published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences, their research found that those who use emoji in abundance in online chats are generally perceived to be friendlier, more empathetic, and more approachable. "If you look at personality traits, like agreeableness, how amenable you are to other people, it seems to be related to whether you use emojis or not," Kaye, a cyberpsychologist at Edge Hill University in the U.K., said according to Eureka Alert. (For the curious, by the way, "emoji" and "emojis" are both acceptable plural forms of the word "emoji.")
Kaye compared the effect of emoji online to that of positive body language in real life. She noted, "We mostly use emojis like gestures, as a way of enhancing emotional expressions. ... There are a lot of idiosyncrasies in how we gesture, and emojis are similar to that, especially because of the discrepancies as to how and why we use them."
However, although the study was important in highlighting how emoji can make a person appear to someone else, Kaye also noted the limitations in simply communicating via online text and images. "People are making judgments about us based on how we use emojis, and they're not necessarily accurate," she said. "What we need to be aware of is that those judgments might differ depending on where or with whom you're using those emojis, such as in the workplace or between family members."
She's right, of course — emoji reveal a lot about how we communicate with each other in the digital age, but their value can never really replace that of a face-to-conversation. Additionally, each of us will have slightly different ways in which we perceive emoji depending on the content of the online message and our own opinions; as such, it's always going to be hard to pin down the exact meaning behind an emoji. (I've had many debates on the true meaning of the salsa dancing woman, for example). There's also the issue that not every demographic uses emoji in the same way. Baby Boomers probably use less than the average Millennial, for example — but does that mean our parents and grandparents aren't as empathetic as we are? Probably not.
Despite the study's shortcomings, however, there's no escaping emoji news these days. After all, celebrities now make millions from their own line of personalized emoji; heck, they even have their own holiday: July 17 is World Emoji Day. First invented for the launch of i-mode (a mobile internet system belonging to a company called NTT) back in 1999, today more than 90 percent of our online conversations now incorporate emoji. No matter how you feel about emoji, it looks like they're here to stay.