17 Aug
Reshma Venugopal

When emojis misunderstand your emotions

emoji pillows


Remember the time when emojis looked like a mix of punctuation marks? Something like this - “:-)”.

I had to space it out because the use of emoji has become such a trend, that as I type this article on Microsoft Word, simple character use automatically turns into an emoticon. What was once a colon, dash, and bracket, now automatically turns into a yellow face, with a smile. Of course, for any tech savvy person, the availability of emoticons (a.k.a emojis) is a blessing in disguise.

Emojis have long been associated with more fun undertones and Lexis that direct facial expressions and mood. You come to know exactly how a person is feeling through the emojis they use, often found similar to their natural facial expressions, even if you are talking to each other from across the world! All this brought to you by our social media sources and the boom in the texting culture.

The reliance on texting apps like WhatsApp, iMessage, Twitter, and Facebook, have not only made our lives easier but also allow us to keep in touch more often conveniently, so much, that texting with emoticons has become the base of most relationships. What’s even more astounding is that this 'easy-to-use and handy' facially expressive emojis can also be the reason for various relationship conflicts. Surprising, isn't it?

However, it won’t be fair if I only bring out the negatives of emojis, for there is some good to them. Let’s first see all the good uses of emojis, and why they are used, in the first place (Selter, 2016).

  1. Emoticons are reacted to in the same way as real life facial expressions:

Do you want to express your “feelings” to your crush? Do you want to compliment someone on the way they look? Do you want to express your sadness over the death of your friend's pet? Well, emojis have got you covered. The power that the emojis exhibit is that you can express the most difficult feelings through just a touch, and it will be taken in the same light by the receiver as they would if you were physically present with them. Studies show that upon receiving an emoji, the same specific parts of the brain are activated, which make you feel as though someone was physically expressing the emotion.

  1. Emoticons can get you popularity on social media:

A study conducted by the University of Cambridge presented a strong positive correlation between the use of emojis by an individual and their social power. The study was conducted by looking at a number of followers, retweets and Facebook friends with the use of emoticon use of the participant (Tchokni et al, 2014).

  1. It makes you happier, even in a rough workplace:

Imagine your boss asking you to pick up coffee for them with just a blunt, straight up use of words and a full stop at the end versus the same message with a smiley face attached at the end of it. You might be a little pissed off about the whole thing regardless, but let’s admit it, a little smiley face can go a long way.

  1. It helps you retain your memory:
    Studies show that text messages with emojis help you remember better. Apart from this, they make you happier. If you go back in time, you will realise that you are likely to remember more texts received with emojis than whose without them.

Those were some of the good points about the use of emoticons. However, research has shown many instances on how negatively can emojis effect relationships. Most of them were shown to be stemmed from everyone having different interpretations for the emojis used hence leading to miscommunication. 

  • The contrasting interpretations:
    If you are an iPhone user, you’ll very well know that the emoticons on your phone will look different from that of an Android user, or even a Windows user. A study conducted by the GroupLens research lab at the University of Minnesota found that people often misunderstood an emoji sent to them if they were on different operating systems. They found this by asking participants to rate the emoji presented to them between -5 to 5, 5 being strongly positive, 0 being neutral and -5 being strongly negative. (GroupLens, 2017)
    The most mixed answers came from the “flushed face emoji” and the “grinning face with smiling eyes emoji”.

mixed emojis


Just imagine you sending your significant other the grinning face emoji with closed eyes after she or he sends you a picture of their new outfit. They might interpret it negatively and end up thinking that they look funny when in reality, you might just only be excited.


  • Translation issues:

Just like how every country or region has a different language, emojis also can be found to squeeze themselves in the language sector. Believe me, there are people who only text using emojis and the thing about that is that not something everyone will understand. Coming back to the point, language barriers might occur because everyone uses it differently. If you try to translate something from your native language to a foreign language, then you are likely to confuse yourself and misinterpret what the other person needs to convey. The same thing happens with emojis; your intention of sending an emoji might not be interpreted correctly by the other person hence causing misunderstanding.

Here's a real-life example. I genuinely thought (and still believe because I am adamant like that), that the eye roll emoji was just a cute emoji to illustrate puppy dog eyes. Turns out, it meant eye roll, and that did not end well with my friends...

eyeroll emoji


  • Overuse of emoji:

This point pertains more to the overuse of emoji, even in contexts that are not needed. Everyone is different, but there are some people in the world who like to express themselves with words, and others through illustrated emotions. While that is fine, problems may arise when a mix of emojis are put in and at the same time as this causes a mass confusion for the brain since it takes a longer time to process the emoticons and make sense out of them. By the time they actually have figured it out, the time runs out and they end up becoming more agitated because their brain worked twice as hard when they could have just gotten through with it minutes ago. Perhaps this is why your significant other decided to reply a bit late?


All in all, emotions are both a blessing and a curse. As the texting culture has taken over our words so drastically, the sentences get shorter, the emojis become more creative and realistic, and the more we humans fail to display real and true feelings. Many relationships have been sabotaged by these cute yellow faces (mostly a lack of them), and I personally don’t feel it should be anywhere near the cause of a breakup or fight between two individuals. Henceforth, let’s try to be more direct with our words and not let their charm and beauty die.

Responses 1

  • Sanjna Verma
    Sanjna Verma   Aug 21, 2017 06:38 PM

    Hey. This is an interesting topic as well as an interesting article to read. All the points mentioned in it would be related by everyone, some point or the other. I liked the point wherein you mentioned about how an emoticon can make you happier in a workplace. I agree to it. If I simply message: I will give your notebook tomorrow, would not be able to have as much impact. But a smiley emoticon with it can bring in more assurance about it.

    The point of the meaning of emoticon made me smile. (no offense) Everyone who has recently been using social media will somewhere or the other face such a problem such as laughing with tears emoticon which can be misinterpreted for a crying emoji.

    It is true that social media has made communication a lot easier but misinterpretation of either a text, a reply or an emoji can play a huge part in deteriorating the crediblity if relationships.

    According to me, it is good either to call or meet face-to-face or use applications like WhatsApp for more formal conversations.

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