Learn How Emoticons Affect Your Brain

A recent study by Dr Owen Churches of Flinders University reveals that after 32 years of creating smiley faces out of keyboard characters, we now recognise the sideways face in the same way as we would a real face.

It takes just milliseconds for the human brain to recognise a face. Now, Dr Churches has discovered that people recognise the sideways smiley face emoticon in the same way.

It all started with the humble ‘smiley’

In the study published in the Social Neuroscience Journal, subjects where shown real smiling faces, smiley emoticons and a host of meaningless symbols. Interestingly, the same area of the brain the lights up on seeing a smiling human face is activated when subjects see this smiley emoticon :-).

So now, when you add a smile to your text message or email, it’s likely you’re activating your friend’s brain in the same way as you would if you were actually smiling at them!

Of course the meaningless characters did not work in the same, and neither did the smiley face when it is turned around the other way. As it turns out, (-: doesn’t mean the same as :-).

The science behind recognition of emoticons

Our ability to recognise a colon, dash and close bracket symbol as a smiling face is called pareidolia – the phenomenon responsible for seeing images and faces in clouds, on toast or other objects around us. You may not have heard the term, but when you see some examples of pareidolia like these on Pinterest, you’ll definitely have experienced it.

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To see more about pareidolia, check out this video from DNews explains more about pareidolia and the recognition of text emoticons.

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