Emojis have created new brain patterns in humans which help decode meaning
In 2018, researchers at the University of Illinois investigated the human response to emojis. The results showed that human brain activity had evolved to view the images as though they were real people.
Humans are symbolically-oriented beings. It is no surprise that emojis make up a large part of our textual conversations and have risen in popularity. We are also intrinsically social beings, drawn to communicating deeply and accurately. According to researchers at the University of Illinois, emojis have far more meaning than most assume and serve as more than a little added decoration, personality, or humor to our messages. Researchers Benjamin Weissman and Darren Tanner claim that emojis have become part of our language. There is an electrical brain pattern deemed “P600” which occurs when someone needs to “reprocess” what has just been said. It appears often when our brains reconsider a sentence’s meaning because of irony or sarcasm. Participants in the University of Illinois study interpreted a simple sentence with a “wink-face emoji” the same way they would if it were spoken ironically. While emojis are not words, they get at something humans have always engaged in, according to Weissman: Multimodal communication. Weissman explains that written language is absent of gestures and facial expressions, which predate our written words. More powerful when paired with words, emojis give us so much more information, in the very same way that our body language would. According to Psychologist World, written communication--although demanding more effort than in-person communication--has been around for a long time and its effectiveness is always up for debate and reform; just think of the novel. Emoji are likely desirable because they allow for tonal specificity in our messages. Our brains know how to engage in these interpretive patterns and emoji provide the opportunity for deeper engagement with loved ones. While emoji are argued to be a new language or at least a strong bolster to the verbal and written languages we already have, there is debate over whether or not these emojis are actually universal. A 2015 study demonstrated nuanced interpretations of the same message based on one’s sex. BBC reports that culturally, emojis can differ in meaning as well, implying very different messages for the same text. It seems that emojis are a relatively new language we are all still learning.
Emojis land on us like language does, according to a study done by researchers at the University of Illinois. When a wink face emoji accompanies a sentence, our brains reprocess the sentence’s meaning, just as we would if someone were to sarcastically wink at us in real life. The study points out that we do not recognize these emojis as faces, per say, but we include their information in our language processing and meaning-making. However, it is important to note that these “brain patterns” are not new. Rather than creating new pathways in our brain, emojis are becoming parts of our textual language. Researcher Weissman reminds us that “spoken and signed languages evolved long before humans developed written representations of language.” He explains that we have always used more information than just the spoken word to understand a narrative: gestures, facial expressions, etc. Emojis are in the same category. Weissman also advises us not to assume that emojis are a language alone that our brains are learning to read; rather, emojis are interpreted just like language but only in conjunction with other words. They enhance meaning.