Emojis can make online messages easier to understand and more believable, study finds

The use of emojis can impact the effectiveness of online messages, according to research published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture.

“The idea for the study came out of a brainstorming session with my co-author Alecka. She is interested in psychology and social media, and I am interested in basic cognition, so studying how we view emojis felt like a perfect mix of our backgrounds if you think about the hypothetical Venn-Diagram,” said T. Alex Daniel of Westfield State University, the corresponding author of the study.

“We found that this area of research is so new, there’s a lot we still don’t know about how emojis impact the way we communicate, especially given that they are so prevalent in our culture.”

In the study, 214 college students viewed 90 tweets from the social media website Twitter and rated how understandable, believable, and shareable the tweets were.

The tweets varied in whether they contained an emoji, and whether or not the emoji was congruent with the emotional tone of the tweet. For example, the tweet “Monday is looking pretty good so far” was sometimes presented without an emoji, sometimes included a congruent emoji (a smiley face), and sometimes included with a incongruent emoji (a disappointed face). The emojis used in the study were joy, heart, heart-eyes, blow-kiss, weary, OK-hand, smile, unamused, and pensive.

The researchers found that tweets that included a congruent emoji were rated as more understandable and more believable than other tweets. Tweets with a congruent emoji were also ranked as more likely to be shared.

“If you are using an emoji in your writing, readers will often find what you say to be easier to understand and more believable. The kind of emoji you use matters, however, so that if you use the wrong one, it can make your content much harder to understand and much less believable,” Daniel told PsyPost.

“As a reader, or as someone online, it is important for us to be on the watch for things like this, so that we don’t buy into bad information just because it has some funny emojis.”

Surprisingly, participants who had more experience on Twitter did not find tweets with a congruent emoji more believable or easier to understand compared to those who were less social media savvy. But more experienced Twitter users were more likely to share those tweets.

“A lot of research on processing fluency incorporates response times, and because we administered this experiment online, it was much harder for us to control for that,” Daniel said. “The kinds of tweets we selected to be used in our study weren’t provocative or controversial, but I think we should also try to understand how emojis change our attitudes towards things like false information, hate speech, and other societally important areas.”

“After we analyzed the data and saw the effects, I started embracing using emojis in my emails to students. If I want them to know that I’m happy with their performance, for example, I’ll throw in a smiley face just to make that message a little more believable,” Daniel added.

The study, “Emojis affect processing fluency on social media“, was authored by Thomas A. Daniel and Alecka L. Camp.