The Silent Speaker: The Impact of Emojis on Nonverbal Communication During a Pandemic

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The Ohio State University

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The COVID-19 pandemic forced many individuals to communicate differently. Due to an increase in online-communication, individuals are missing prosodic cues, or cues that come from someone's voice patterns, which give meaning to sentences. This study examined if emoticons (emojis) influenced sentence interpretation and whether individuals used emojis differently during the pandemic. Introductory psychology students (n=98) took an online survey from February 12th, 2021 to April 2nd, 2021. This study assessed emoji usage, and tested participants' emotion ratings of sentences as more positive or negative depending on the presence of a smiley face emoji, a frowny face emoji or no emoji. I found that a majority of the participants used emojis in their daily text messages. Many participants reported no change in emoji usage or perceived emotion of emojis due to COVID-19, but when asked to give details, they reported using fewer positive emojis, like the smiley emoji, and more negative emojis, like the sad and crying emoji. Participants were told to rate the emotional perception of sentences that had either a smiley-face emoji, a frowny-face emoji or no emoji at the end and were from either a perceived familiar person or an unfamiliar person. Participants interpreted sentences differently depending on the emoji paired with the sentence (smiley, frowny, no emoji) and on the familiarity of the person who sent it (familiar/unfamiliar). These results suggest that people interpret sentences differently when emojis are present. The participants perceived the smiley emoji as being more positive, and texts from familiar people were also perceived as being more positive. This is important because emojis may be similar to prosodic cues, in that they help reveal the intentions behind someone's sentences, which could help remove ambiguity in online communication.


1st place, Poster Presentation (Completed Research) 2021 Annual Undergraduate Research Forum, The Ohio State University Newark
3rd place, Poster Presentation (Language Development and Understanding) 2021 The Richard J. and Martha D. Denman Undergraduate Research Forum, The Ohio State University


Emojis, Communication, Emotion, COVID-19, Familiarity, Gender