People interpret emojis in different ways

Emojis are used very widely by a diverse range of people. A recent study hoped to find how individuals interpret emojis, and if there was a general consensus among individuals about what different emojis meant.

The study, led by researchers from a Research lab, called GroupLens, at the University of Minnesota, found that individuals often view emojis in different ways. The discoveries will be presented in May at the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence’s Conference on Web and Social Media in Germany.

Emojis can be cryptic in meaning. Graphic from Get Emoji
Emojis can be cryptic in meaning. Graphic from Get Emoji

The study discovered that individuals who viewed the same emoji disagreed on if the emoji expressed a negative, neutral or positive feeling approximately 25 percent of the time. For 95 percent of emojis, individuals did not strongly agree on what feeling the emoji expressed.

Each mobile platform has its own version of emojis, because of this, interpreting emojis can be particularly problematic when the sender and the receiver are using separate platforms.

The study’s participants, made up of 334 individuals, rated a total of 125 emojis. They were asked to rate the feeling expressed by an emoji on a scale from –5 (strongly negative) to 5 (strongly positive).

The researchers discovered, on average, that when two individuals viewed the same emoji, their feeling ratings were different by approximately 1.8 points, and when they looked at different versions of the same emoji, their ratings were different by approximately 2 points.

Individuals used contrasting words to describe the different renderings of the same emojis. For instance, when viewing the emoji of a “person raising both hands in celebration” individuals used words like “hand” or “celebrate” to describe the emoji from the Apple version, and words like “exciting” or “high” to describe the Microsoft version.

According to the study, the findings suggest that it would benefit users to merge the design of emojis across all platforms, which could lower the probability of miscommunication.

According to researchers, future studies may determine how individuals view emojis when they are viewed in the context of a text message, or if individuals from separate cultures also view emojis differently. Because the new study only looked at emoji with human characteristics, or anthropomorphic, future studies could investigate how individuals view non-anthropomorphic emojis.