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.