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Do You Think Emoticons Carry Cultural Baggage?

A recent study used the hypothesis that facial cues in different parts of the face are interpreted differently based on an individual’s cultural background. The researchers confirmed this, with a study that found emoticons — as in the text-turned funny faces used in text messages, e-mail and instant messenger to replicate emotions and attitudes — are in fact interpreted differently depending on cultural factors.

Arstechnica notes the study found a culture's interpretation of facial expressions is dependent upon a combination of the culture's emotional openness and the challenge of controlling certain facial muscles. Here's more:

Given that the eyes are more difficult to control than the mouth when people express emotions, we predicted that individuals in cultures where emotional subduction is the norm (such as Japan) would focus more strongly on the eyes than the mouth when interpreting others’ emotions. By contrast, we predicted that people in cultures where overt emotional expression is the norm (such as the US) would tend to interpret emotions based on the position of the mouth, because it is the most expressive part of the face.

I have never been a huge fan of emoticons, mostly because I think our texting etiquette and habits are in fact lessening our writing abilities. I do, however, agree that emoticons are less universal than we might have thought, and that what looks like "money mouth" or "frown" to me might look like something else entirely to someone down the street or across the globe.

Join The Conversation
RunningVixen RunningVixen 8 years
I feel that using emoticons is like taking a poop on an otherwise intelligent conversation.
jendudley jendudley 10 years
They are smiley faces people...let 'em be!
pinupsweetheart pinupsweetheart 10 years
I agree that it can be seen differently across the globe, but I think they are taking this a little too serious. There are more important things to focus on, like the homeless in America.
catstarr catstarr 10 years
It's an interesting thought, but I think maybe they're taking emoticons a little too seriously. ;)
mabess mabess 10 years
i'm a nerd. i love cultural psychology.
partysugar partysugar 10 years
I think emoticons are just plain weird.
inertia inertia 10 years
I definitely think there's some cultural knowledge needed to interpret emoticons. I'm in Japan and still haven't figured out what all the emoticons that came pre-loaded on my phone mean, even though I've had the phone for over 2 years. f^_^; (that's me scratching the back of my sweaty head in embarrassment)
Linux-Traveler Linux-Traveler 10 years
Too much emoticons, too much lol. I hate this
jhuck jhuck 10 years
I had never thought about this! Emoticons can be overkill by some people, but are sometimes good. It's so hard to show emotion by text that occasionally you need to shoot a little text face in there to clarify how you are saying something.
glam-sugar glam-sugar 10 years
Hmm...that's an interesting thought. ;)
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