Contrary to actual smiles, using smileys in work emails does not increase perception of warmth but may leave an impression of incompetence, according to a recent study.
As emoticons are increasingly used in substitute for words in text messages, chat apps and even emails, researchers from Israel and the Netherlands conducted the study that branded itself as “the first systematic investigation of the effects of smileys on first impression formation in work settings.” “I was very optimistic about the positive power of emoticons. But our initial results surprised me,” Ella Glikson, an author of the study from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, told CNN. The study, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, conducted three experiments involving 549 participants from 29 different countries. It concluded that “a smiley is not a smile,” as the positive effect of smileys on the tone of a message is often outweighed by the decrease in perception of the sender’s competence.
The study also found that perceptions of low competence in turn would reduce the recipient’s willingness to share information, making it more difficult to work together. Regarding the role of gender in the use and interpretation of emoticons, the study found that recipients were more likely to assume that an email was sent by a woman if it included a smiley. Glikson noted that the study could provide some guidance for using emoticons for the young generation who has been accustomed to using digital devices and internet slangs. “We think that as emoji evolve into a language, we need to carefully learn the rules and the limitations of this language,” Glikson said.