Love them or hate them, emoticons are here to stay. With 40 percent of all messages now thought to contain an emoji, the novelty of adding a token smiley when texting shows no sign of waning. Though once considered to be a bit of fun, emoticons are now becoming a valuable component of written discourse, with some important psychological and social functions! We know this, in part, because research has shown different regions of the brain to light up in response to an emoji-containing message, compared to the effect of the same message in plain text.
This goes to prove that it’s perhaps possible to convey more information, emotion and sentiment (ie. sarcasm, humour, joy, laughter and sadness) with a few choice yellow faces, than with words alone. By removing some of the ambiguity typically associated with textual discourse, some would say there is less scope for miscommunication when emailing or texting with a choice emoji or two, but how this fits within the context of professionalism and social boundaries, only time will tell.
In terms of the mechanism behind the 'emoji effect', researchers have concluded that it is by mimicking the effects of non-verbal communication, including gestures and facial expressions, that readers are better able to gauge tone and meaning, not to mention personality, from a graphically enhanced message.
And the benefits don't end there! Just as those who use expressions and varying intonations in real life can seem more agreeable, the same can apparently be said of emoji users. Couple this with the fact that it's a pretty convenient form of shorthand when you're wanting to communicate in a hurry, and it's no wonder that the emoji has been granted it's own worldwide day of celebration!
From a health stance, there may be mileage in suggesting that communicating those hard-to-articulate feelings such as sadness and anxiety may be easier when the need to actually spell it out has been removed, and replaced by a one-tap transparent visual alternative. This vast range of emotion specific graphics available at our fingertips has, by all accounts, made the challenge of reaching out to friends and family for support somewhat easier than when this depended on being able to translate often complex and sensitive emotions into actual, tangible words.
It's always been said that 'a picture speaks a thousand words', and in the case of the emoji and mental health, this expression has never been more true or relevant.
Happy World Emoji Day!