New Study Finds That People Interpret Emojis Differently

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Emojis like smiley faces, thumbs up icons, and random fruits and vegetables often replace words in digital conversations. But instead of making conversing easier, emojis cause a lot of miscommunication, in part because not everyone interprets their meaning in the same way, according to a new study shared by The Verge.

For the study [PDF], researchers of GroupLens Research at the University of Minnesota surveyed online participants and asked them to rate the sentiment of 22 of the most popular human-looking emojis. A score of -5 meant that the emoji was very negative, while a score of 5 meant that it was very positive.

They found that though some emojis look completely different from one operating system to the next, that wasn't the only distinction that led to different interpretations among participants. The same emoji was read more positively on some platforms (Samsung, Google, LG, etc.) than others (Apple) because of the change in design. However, even when participants were shown emojis within the same operating systems, there were a range of interpretations. For instance, some saw the "grinning" Apple emoji as positive, while other saw it as negative.

GroupLens Research at the University of Minnesota

"We found that for 9 of our 22 emoji, the average difference in emotion rating between two platforms was greater than 2 points on our -5-to-5 scale," Hannah Miller of the GroupLens research lab wrote.

Miller added that some emojis not only represented different emotions, but meant completely different concepts to different people. One example: the emoji that shows two raised hands. "When seeing this Apple emoji rendering, participants used words like 'stop' and 'clap,' whereas they described the Google version of the same emoji character with words like 'praise' and 'hand,'" Miller said.

So, how can we make communication with emojis more effective? The researchers offered up possible solutions, including alerting users that their emoji may appear differently on a different platform and standardizing emojis across platforms. Still, that would only fix half of the problem. They acknowledge that users could still have different translations of the same image.

So the next time someone sends you a grinning face or praise hands, you may want to consider what you know about the sender before jumping to conclusions.

[h/t The Verge]

Images via GroupLens Research at the University of Minnesota

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