Be Careful Using Emojis: Interpretations Vary

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December 14, 2021
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Study: Men and women often interpret emoji facial expressions differently. Men see the yellow thinking face as positive, for example; women not so much.

NEW YORK – New research suggests that more people misinterpret the meaning behind an emoji, and as more business correspondence occurs via text or email, people who think an emoji adds context to their message may find that it adds confusion rather than clarity.

You should use emoji carefully when communicating with clients, suggests a report in the science journal Computers in Human Behavior.

Researchers note that men and women often interpret common emoji differently, which could lead to misunderstandings. Wayne State University psychologist Michigan Lara Jones and other researchers found that women tend to use emoji more than men. Emoji use is also more common among younger adults and more prolific in communication with friends than bosses or other work leaders.

But women may read more into emoji than men, according to the study. For example, women may interpret neutral or ambiguous facial emoji as more negative than men. Jones cites the “thinking” emoji as another example: Men tend to view this emoji as slightly positive but women often view it as negative.

The “smiley face with horns” and “eyebrows raised” emoji are also commonly interpreted by men and women differently. And the smiley face emoji may mean happiness to older age groups but send vibes of sarcasm and condescension to younger people. Likewise, a skull emoji may mean danger to some but “dying of laughter” to others.

Researchers don’t advise people to stop using emoji altogether; the symbols have become too common and important in digital conversations and can make communication feel more personal. But researchers suggest avoiding using them with recipients of a different generation unless you know the recipients’ communication style and preferences.

Source: “A New Study Shows Why You Should Be Cautious About Using Emojis at Work,” Inc.com (Dec. 7, 2021); “That Emoji Could Win You (Or Cost You) a Professional Relationship,” forbes.com (Oct. 4, 2021)

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