Internet psychologist Dr Chris Fullwood found people who used ‘emoticons’ or smiley face graphics were perceived as more outgoing and friendly than those that did not.
Dr Fullwood conducted a study of 32 participants who received identical written responses to a set of questions while chatting to a fictional person online. Half of the participants received mainly positive emoticons in the conversation, including smiles, winks and one shocked face, while the other half received no images. They were not told the gender of the other person, although the responses could be interpreted to be more feminine.
Dr Fullwood, from the University’s School of Applied Sciences, said: “We have established that emoticons can have an impact on the impressions that people form of each other, and the impressions of the emoticon users tended to be more positive. They were seen as being more outgoing and friendly.
“There were also subtle differences between male and female impressions – the men were more likely to see the non-emoticon users as less outgoing than the women were. This might be due to the perceived sex of the person they were chatting to, and that emoticons can be used in a flirtatious way, so if a person does not use them they are seen as less extraverted,” he said.
“We are seeing that emoticons can elevate some of the restrictions associated with online conversations, as you are unable to see people’s reactions and emotions. Previous research has shown that online communication is colder, and it is difficult to get warmness across in an online environment. I found that emoticons can be used as a barrier against coldness, and can improve perceptions if used in certain contexts such as informal internet chatrooms and online dating, although they are not suitable for use in professional emails.”
Participants filled in a questionnaire which measured the key personality traits they perceived the other person to have. The emoticons research by Dr Fullwood and University of Wolverhampton PhD student Ms Orsolina Martino was recently published in the journal, Applied Semiotics.
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