Here's Why People Misunderstand Emoji

Emoji are nominally the wave of the future in terms of communication. Though they have some obvious problems, like lack of a strong female representative, one of the lesser-discussed ones is how open to interpretation they are.

Mental Floss broke down a series of emoji that look wildly different from platform to platform, but even that doesn’t capture the whole picture. Though Instagram says that emoji represent about half the textual communication on the platform, we still aren’t entirely sure what that means.

A recent study by the GroupLens research lab at the University of Minnesota showed just how much our interpretations of emoji can vary based on the platform we use to view them. Their findings showed that not only can interpretation vary wildly from person to person, but that the misconstrued communications happened around a predictable set of emoji. The two most misinterpreted were the “grinning face with smiling eyes,” which looks like a grimace to Apple users, and “sleeping face,” which Microsoft users view as having negative connotations. The researchers scored each emoji on a ten point scale, from -5 being the most negative to 5 being the most positive.

“Overall, we found that if you send an emoji across platform boundaries (e.g., an iPhone to a Nexus), the sender and the receiver will differ by about 2.04 points on average on our -5 to 5 sentiment scale,” study author Hannah Miller wrote. “However, even within platforms, the average difference is 1.88 points.”

That means that if your friend reacts really weirdly to how your date went, they’re not stupid, they’re just looking at your emoji differently. To learn more, read the study or the much more palatable blog post explaining the results.
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