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What Your Emojis Say About You

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By Linda Kaye, Helen Wall, Stephanie Malone:

emoticonsWhen you add a smiley face to the end of a message, you may be saying more than you realise. Emoticons, faces formed from punctuation symbols such as :-), and emojis, picture symbols such as ?, are now common features of the way we communicate using phone and internet messaging services and social media. They can help your recipient understand a potentially ambiguous message, reinforce the emotion in what you’re saying, or communicate your feelings rapidly with a single character. But not everyone uses them – or interprets them – in the same way.

So we set out to discover how the use of these symbols influences the way others perceive us. Do different types of people use emoticons for a particular purpose, such as managing their image, for example? If so, what psychological factors are associated with these actions? To do this, we asked a group of students to complete questionnaires about themselves and then allow us to study their textual communication in a staged conversation.

The questions covered the students’ views on their personalities, self-esteem, social anxiety and self-presentation concerns (how worried they were about how other people perceived them). We also asked about the amount of emoticons they used and why they used them for text messages, emails and Facebook. We then took screenshots of their Facebook profiles and recorded a 10-minute conversation they had with another, unknown student via Facebook messenger.

We found that those people who rated themselves as agreeable (pleasant, likeable) were more likely to use emoticons on social media sites. We also found that those who were less worried about how other people perceived them were more likely to use sad emoticons.

Mirror to the real world

It seems that different people use emoticons differently depending on their personalities. People who are agreeable tend to use social and emotional cues in the real world to communicate that to other people, such as smiling and being encouraging. And to some degree that is mirrored in the virtual world through the use of smiling emoticons.

This is particularly the case on social networking sites such as Facebook, where messages may have bigger, wider audiences and where the interactions are richer and more complex than simple, one-to-one plain text messages. We can speculate that people who see themselves as more agreeable are stimulated in these virtual environments and make more of an attempt to convey that part of their personality through emoticons.

At the same time, if you’re less bothered about how people perceive you, you may be more comfortable displaying all your emotions, including sadness. And so a sad face on a message may be an indication that you’re more concerned with expressing yourself than with how others may judge you.

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Do I use ;-p or =-s ? Shutterstock

Some of our other findings also show how we’re more likely to use emoticons in some kinds of virtual communication than others. Perhaps understandably, our participants deemed emoticons inappropriate for more professional contexts, which probably explains why they said they used emoticons less in email than in text messages or social media.

Regardless of this, our participants reported that emoticons were a useful way of expressing themselves and reducing the ambiguity of messages. This suggests emoticons may be particularly important for individuals who find it difficult to express or interpret emotion or social intent using just text and the cues it can provide.

This has prompted us to start planning further research into whether emoticons could be beneficial for those on the autism spectrum. These individuals can struggle with social interaction and picking up emotional cues, so the clarity that emoticons bring to potentially ambiguous messages may help them to communicate.

Judging emoticons

For the final part of our research, we asked another group of people to look at the conversations and profiles we had recorded, in order to study how other people judge us based on our use of emoticons. We found that the more smiley emoticons a person had used, the more they were seen as agreeable, conscientious and open to new experiences.

But this didn’t always correspond to how people saw themselves. The emoticon users and those being asked to judge them were most likely to agree on how extroverted and open to new experiences they were. This suggests that while smiling emoticons may make people seem more agreeable and conscientious, that may not match up with their own real-world personalities.

All of this hints at how much the way we use emoticons and emojis appears to shape other people’s impressions of us – and the fact that we should be aware of how we use them online. Although we recorded examples of observers making positive judgements about other people’s emoticon usage, other behaviour could lead to less favourable impressions.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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