Post-Grant Reports


Sabbatical Leave Report

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Communication | Psychology | Social Psychology


Created in Japan in the late 1990s (Davis & Edberg, 2015), emoji have recently been gaining popularity in text communication. Emoji evolved from emoticons (e.g., ;) ) but are far more varied and nuanced. Some have argued that emoji (like emoticons) emphasize the affect (e.g., humor, sadness, sarcasm) in a text communication (Stark & Crawford, 2015). However, the many factors that influence the interpretation of an emoji and its influence on text communication is not clear. Understanding emoji semantics is an important first step in understanding the influence emoji have on text communication. Research has previously defined emoji, however the total number of people interpreting any one emoji was small and they were primarily interested in cross-platform misconstrual (Miller et al., 2016). Our research focuses on the semantic meaning of emoji in isolation, followed by the influence these emoji have in context. Our pilot study had 100 participants (38% male, 62% female) interpret 42 popular emoji. We first had them describe the emoji and then asked them to briefly state what the emoji expressed to them. From these open-ended data we created a second experiment containing a multiple-choice survey asking new participants to choose which of five meanings best expresses a particular emoji. Additionally, we asked participants to rate how positive or negative the emoji was to them. The current data show that, like words, some emoji have very specific semantic representations while others are more ambiguous. These semantic representations are influenced by age and gender.


This research was conducted as part of a sabbatical leave in 2017-2018.

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