A recent study carried out by the GroupLens research team at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, revealed that there are individual differences in the way people interpret or give meaning to emojis, leading to potential miscommunications.

Survey respondents included 304 crowd workers at the Amazon Mechanical Turk who were asked to rate/rank the sentiment or emotion of emojis on a scale ranging from strongly negative to strongly positive. Out of these 304 people, 169 were female, 134 were male and one other. The average age of the participants was 38.6.The emojis were tested on five different platforms since they are developed differently for each. These were namely Apple (35%), Google/Android (8%), Microsoft (1%), Samsung (29%), LG (10%) and 17% used others.

Average sentiments were then constructed and it was found that Microsoft’s ‘smiling face with open mouth and tightly closed eyes’ faced the highest disagreement amongst users. 54% of the participants labeled it as negative whereas 44% of the participants labeled it as positive. Some interpreted it as ‘rosy cheeked glee’ whereas others linked it with a ‘clenched teeth constipated look’. Google users commented saying it is ‘blissfully friendly’. At the same time Apple’s toothy smiling face, which is considered to be the same emoji, is interpreted as being feistier, almost ready to fight.

A participant from Hannah et al’s study “Blissfully happy” or “ready to fight”: Varying interpretations of emoji’ was quoted saying ‘I downloaded the new iOS platform and I sent some nice faces, and they came to my wife’s phones as aliens.’

Apple’s ‘sleeping face’ faced the second highest disagreement with 79% of the participants ranking the sentiment to be neutral with only one participant giving it a different rating. In the case of the emoji with both hands raised to celebrate, Google users described It as ‘praise’ and ‘hand’ compared to Apple users who commented saying it looked as if the emoji is ‘clapping’ or ‘stopping’. Furthermore, Apple was considered to have the highest average within-platform sentiment misconstrual with Google scoring the lowest. Overall results point towards the fact that different interpretations, sentiments and meanings are derived from the same emojis. However, even within platforms, the average difference which was recorded was of 1.88 points. It is important to note, however, that the study focuses on emojis being used in isolation and not with text.

It is important to understand that all the results do not signify how Apple varies from Microsoft but in fact how each individual is unique in their own interpretations. There is no particular right or wrong, just varying views that make up a human psyche leading to possible communication problems. Author of the study, Jacob Thebault Spieker, clarifies, “People miscommunicate all the time, it’s not about emoji.” The psycholinguistic theory gives us a better understanding of what is going on by suggesting that ‘interpretation must be consistent between two people in order to avoid communication challenges’.

The word ‘emoji’ is derived from Japanese and means ‘picture (e)’ ‘writing (mo)’ and ‘character (ji)’. Though small in size, they soon gained popularity and massive appeal amongst the community using text communication. They are used all over Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook. They are an extension of emoticons and are more descriptive in nature. The co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory at Pennsylvania State University was quoted saying, ‘Emoticons open the door a little, but emoji opens it even further.’ Though the paper is available for download currently, the scheduled publication is expected to take place in May at the ‘10th International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media (ICWSM-16)’, which is one of the most valued science conferences.