Red7 , February 28, 2014
Your brain cannot tell the difference between 🙂 and a real face.
That’s according to a study by academic Owen Churches.
Writing in the latest issue of Social Neuroscience, he says that emoticons are now so common we respond to them in the same way we would a human face.
Churches, from the school of psychology at Flinders University in Adelaide, said that faces are special from a psychological point of view.
He says that when we look at an image of a real face, we recognise the position of the mouth relative to the nose and the eyes, and as a result very specific parts of the brain are activated. When this image is inverted, we get another specific pattern of brain activity. Churches say the same brain responses are triggered when we looked at a smiley face emoticon.
Churches and his colleagues presented 20 participants with images of real faces, smiley face emoticons, and a meaningless string of characters.
They used electrophysiology – he study of the electrical properties of biological cells and tissue – to discover the pattern of electrical activity in the brain when the participants viewed the different stimuli.
While face-specific brain activity was triggered by the images of real faces both upright and inverted, they were only triggered by the emoticon when it was its usual configuration .
Churches interest in emoticons was sparked by emails he received from his students.
He said: “I got a large number of emails from students that went something along the lines of ‘Hey, Owen, can I have an extension on that assignment?’ And then they would sign off this request with a smiley face emoticon.
“Emoticons are a new form of language that we’re producing and to decode that language we’ve produced a new pattern of brain activity. Most of us pay more attention to faces than we do to anything else. We know experimentally that people respond differently to faces than they do to other object categories.”
His findings have been backed up social media agency Brandwatch, based in Brighton.
Joel Windels, marketing manager at Brandwatch, said: “Social media and emerging technologies like smart phones have fundamentally changed the way we communicate as humans. Face-to-face conversations have evolved over thousands of years to include tonal inflection and gesticulation in order to enhance meaning beyond the words themselves. In an age where digital devices and 140-character messages rules supreme, we’ve developed nuances in this new mode of communication, and emoticons have formed a cornerstone of this semantic refining.”
The top three Emoticons used on social media sites