Emojis — not always as they seem

Emojis have become an integral part of our online culture. But what do they mean?

As it turns out — we don’t know.

A new study by researchers at the University of Minnesota found emoji users have very different interpretations of the same symbols. Some thought the “grinning face with smiling eyes” emoji conveyed a positive feeling, while others viewed it more negatively. To further complicate matters, the same emoji can mutate when sent from one device to another. Apple’s grinning emoji, for example, looks more like a grimace, whereas Samsung’s looks like someone laughing.

Figure depicting 10 different platform renderings for the grinning face with smiling eyes emoji

Researchers asked study participants to rank a list of emojis on a scale depending on how positively or negatively they viewed that symbol — with -5 being the most negative, and 5 being the most positive. For nine of the 22 emojis studied, the average difference in rating between two platforms was greater than two points, the study found.

Participants also associated emojis with different meanings. For example, the researchers wrote, when seeing the Apple emoji Apple's person raising both hands in celebration emoji, participants associated it with words like “stop” and “clap.” When they saw the Google version Google's person raising both hands in celebration emoji, they associated it with words like “praise” and “hand.”

Quartz reported the study Thursday.

The study comes as emojis seem to be taking over the online world. Oxford Dictionaries named one as the word of the year in 2015, and Facebook recently added a handful of emojis to liven up its “like” button. The quirky symbols are a significant weapon in what tech news source The Information dubbed “the arms” race for messaging supremacy among social networks. Case in point, take Snapchat’s acquisition of Bitstrips, a Toronto-based maker of personalized emojis. Fortune reported last month that Snapchat was snapping up the company for around $100 million.

So remember: while a playful emoji may seem like just the thing to add some humor to a text message — be careful. Emojis are not always as they seem.

Photo: Facebook’s new icons. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

 

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