Happy, sad or surprised? The impact of emojis in our life

Posted on Thursday, October 10, 2019

They may be small and rather simple in appearance, but their presence has the power to completely change the meaning of a message. Emojis, these small digital images that are used to express an emotion or to represent a character or action, can influence the perception of a text message. They are also changing the way we communicate.

How will your friend react if you add a negative emoji to the next text message you send him? If you are a manager, should you add smileys to your text messages if the recipients are your employees?

Olivier Langlois, a Communications student at the University of Ottawa, examined the role and impact of emojis in text messages. His master's thesis, L’impact des émojis sur la perception affective des messages textes, was submitted on September 16, 2019.

He has chosen to make emojis his subject of study because they have not “yet been explored much,” despite the fact that they have a “real impact on people's lives.”

“Emojis are not as corny as you might think,” said Olivier Langlois. “They are a social phenomenon and a universal language. They can help people who have difficulty expressing themselves show their feelings, such as children and the elderly.”


156 participants from the University of Ottawa School of Psychology completed an online questionnaire between May and October 2018.

These participants received one of three versions of the survey (no emojis, positive emojis and negative emojis) and were asked to record their reactions to text messages. Quantitative and qualitative analyses were then conducted based on these results.

“We made several discoveries following our quantitative survey,” explained the author. “Adding a positive emoji to a text message in a romantic context is recommended. In a friendly context, it is not recommended to add negative emojis to text messages on a positive topic. And using negative emojis in a professional context is not recommended.”

“In a professional context, women react more negatively than men to negative emojis and those 25 and over react more negatively to emojis (positive or negative) than those 16 to 24 years old,” he added.

“As for our qualitative questions, they allowed us to discover that people prefer to receive emojis from young people, women and people who are not in a position of authority,” Mr. Langlois continued. “We also discovered why people want to use emojis and why they would sometimes want to avoid them.”

Olivier Langlois has made several other interesting discoveries during his research on emojis.

“Contrary to what one might think, the use of positive emojis in a professional context is not discouraged,” he said. “Our research also allowed us to get our hands on some interesting data: the recycling emoji is the third most used on Twitter (for a surprising reason!). Men who use emojis on dating sites and applications are more likely to have sex with their pen pal. Finally, using less and less emojis with someone means that the relationship is deteriorating.”

The author points out that the understanding and interpretation of emojis vary from one person to another, which can lead to misunderstandings. 

“It is a universal language that crosses the barriers of oral languages,” he added. “In my opinion, emojis are a reflection of the world in which we live and studying these small images is not only a matter of communication, but also of psychology and sociology.”


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