Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, working with Amsterdam University, have come to an important scientific conclusion: Emojis are bad for you.
Specifically, they’re bad for you in a work setting. BGU’s new study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science reveals that sliding in that smiley emoticon, while well-intentioned, is likely to undermine you professionally. While a real life smile is likely to make people in the workplace both like and trust you, an ersatz one made of punctuation marks can have an adverse effect. (Emojis and emoticons seem to be used interchangeably here, though traditionally, the former refers to thumbnail images you add from a mobile device, and the latter refers to putting together keyboard symbols that they seem to represent a thing or feeling.)
Lest you think that this study only speaks to the emotional brusqueness that Israelis often exude, BGU used participants (549 of them) from 29 different countries. The basic experiment was showing participants similar emails, some with emojis, some without. (They weren’t told anything about the age or gender of the user, but they tended to assume emoticon users were female, because of course they did.)
Participants were then asked to evaluate the work emails and rate the email sender on scales of both “competence” and “warmth.” So, even if smileys make you seem less professional, at least people will think you’re nice, right?
Wrong. Using emoticons or emojis certainly lowered the competency rating of email composers, but it didn’t move the warmth rating one way or another. The same thing happened in another experiment in the study that was meant to test for perceptions of competence or friendliness: Competence suffered, and friendliness was unchanged.
Workplace emoji users: You’re sacrificing professionalism for nothing!
And why might this be true? Shocking news, but communicate over the Internet lacks some of the emotional nuances of face-to-face interaction.
“People tend to assume that a smiley is a virtual smile, but the findings of this study show that in the case of the workplace, at least as far as initial ‘encounters’ are concerned, this is incorrect,” said Dr. Ella Glikson, a post-doctorate fellow involved in the study. “For now, at least, a smiley can only replace a smile when you already know the other person.”
And so, the next time you want to reply all to a work email with a ;), O_O, or even a (╯°□°）╯︵ ┻━┻ (that’s flipping a table in frustration, if you couldn’t tell), remember: In-person displays of emotion work better. To make people like you, you’re going to have to go flip that table for real.
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Gabriela Geselowitz is a writer and the former editor of Jewcy.com.