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      Emoji can facilitate recognition of conveyed indirect meaning

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      PLoS ONE

      Public Library of Science

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          Abstract

          In face-to-face communication there are multiple paralinguistic and gestural features that facilitate recognition of a speaker’s intended meaning, features that are lacking when people communicate digitally (e.g., texting). As a result, substitutes have emerged (expressive punctuation, capitalization, etc.) to facilitate communication in these situations. However, little is known about the comprehension processes involved in digital communication. In this research we examined the role of emoji in the comprehension of face-threatening, indirect replies. Participants in two experiments read question–reply sequences and then judged the accuracy of interpretations of the replies. On critical trials the reply violated the relation maxim and conveyed a negative, face-threatening response. On one-third of the trials the reply contained only text, on one-third of the trials the reply contained text and an emoji, and on one-third of the trials the reply contained only an emoji. When the question requested potentially negative information about one of the interactants (disclosures and opinions), participants were more likely to endorse the indirect meaning of the reply, and did so faster, when the reply contained an emoji than when it did not. This effect did not occur when the question was a request for action, a more conventional type of indirect reply. Overall, then, this research demonstrates that emoji can sometimes facilitate the comprehension of meaning. Future research is needed to examine the boundary conditions for this effect.

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          Most cited references 23

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          The nonverbal communication functions of emoticons in computer-mediated communication.

           Shao-Kang Lo (2008)
          Most past studies assume that computer-mediated communication (CMC) lacks nonverbal communication cues. However, Internet users have devised and learned to use emoticons to assist their communications. This study examined emoticons as a communication tool that, although presented as verbal cues, perform nonverbal communication functions. We therefore termed emoticons quasi-nonverbal cues.
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            Emoticons in computer-mediated communication: social motives and social context.

            This study investigated the role of emoticons in computer-mediated communication (CMC). The study consisted of an online questionnaire about the social motives for emoticon use and an experimental part in which participants (N = 1,251) had to respond to short Internet chats. In these chats, the interaction partner (friend vs. stranger) and the valence of the context (positive vs. negative) were manipulated. Results showed that emoticons are mostly used to express emotion, to strengthen a message, and to express humor. Furthermore, more emoticons were used in communication with friends than in communication with strangers, and more emoticons were used in a positive context than in a negative context. Participants seem to use emoticons in a way similar to facial behavior in face-to-face communication with respect to social context and interaction partner.
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              Functions of the Nonverbal in CMC: Emoticons and Illocutionary Force

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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Role: ConceptualizationRole: Funding acquisitionRole: SupervisionRole: Writing – original draft
                Role: ConceptualizationRole: Data curationRole: MethodologyRole: Writing – review & editing
                Role: Editor
                Journal
                PLoS One
                PLoS ONE
                plos
                plosone
                PLoS ONE
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, CA USA )
                1932-6203
                30 April 2020
                2020
                : 15
                : 4
                Affiliations
                Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana, United States of America
                Florida State University, UNITED STATES
                Author notes

                Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

                Article
                PONE-D-20-01405
                10.1371/journal.pone.0232361
                7192449
                32353045
                © 2020 Holtgraves, Robinson

                This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

                Page count
                Figures: 2, Tables: 3, Pages: 13
                Product
                Funding
                Funded by: funder-id http://dx.doi.org/10.13039/501100008982, National Science Foundation;
                Award ID: BCS-1917631
                Award Recipient :
                The research was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation (BCS-1917631) which was awarded to TH. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
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                All data are available at Open ICPSR at https://doi.org/10.3886/E117002V2.

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