Isabelle Boutet, Assistant-Professor at the School of Psychology at the University of Ottawa and her team looked at using unambiguous emojis to express emotions and found they could reduce miscommunication and improve digital social interactions. The team even created new emojis that communicate an emotion signal more effectively than currently available emojis and invited developers of digital technology to take into consideration the empirical data reviewed in their study to design emoji menus that facilitate use of explicit emojis.
Thousands of new emojis are now available across various platforms and the ones that mimic facial expressions of emotion being most popular.
The meaning of many emojis is unclear, which can lead to miscommunication and put a strain on social relations. To address this problem, the study measured interpretation of existing emojis, and created novel emojis that incorporate visual cues that distinguish facial expressions of emotions, known as facial action units (AUs), that showed facial cues of joy, sadness, or anger. The study found that most of these novel emojis were interpreted more consistently and accurately than existing emojis.
“We developed novel emojis that incorporate facial action units associated with sadness, happiness, anger, surprise, fear, or being neutral”
— Assistant-Professor at the School of Psychology at the University of Ottawa
“A critical difference between these novel emojis and the existing ones is that our new emojis were never seen before by the participants, so their meaning was entirely derived from the presence of visual cues present in facial expressions of emotions,” explained professor Boutet. “Our hope is that developers of digital technology will take into consideration our findings and incorporate our novel emojis and those we found to be less ambiguous in emoji menus. This would help reduce miscommunication and improve digital social interactions.”
The main goal of this study was to test the hypothesis that incorporating facial action units in emojis might improve consistency and accuracy in emotional communication.
“To test this hypothesis, we developed novel emojis that incorporate facial action units associated with sadness, happiness, anger, surprise, fear, or being neutral. There is a lack of empirical data on interpretations of existing emojis, and few studies have examined specific emotional interpretations beyond just positive/negative valence (the extent to which an emotion is positive or negative) and arousal.”, adds Boutet.