Using emojis can increase understanding in communication

A surprised face smiley, blushing smiley, baby emoji and heart-eye emoji stared at me.

It was a pregnancy announcement from one of my friends. And she shared her happy news via a text message without words, instead using little images or icons called emojis.

Emoji is an anglicized Japanese word meaning “picture character.” They were first created in the 1990s for the launch of the world’s first mobile Internet platform in Japan, according to emoji information website, More than 1,600 emojis exist.

My friends and I are pro-moji and communicate with them daily. We’re not the only ones.

Emojis are so popular that Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year for 2015 wasn’t a word. It was the “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji. Now instead of just liking a Facebook post, you can react with angry, sad, wow, haha, love and like emojis. Books have been translated into just emojis.

When Apple announced it was releasing new emojis with the iOS 9.1 update in fall 2015, people (including me) were sharing their thoughts on social media, anxious to see the new icons appear in the keyboard. How did we live without champagne, cheese and unicorn emojis?

The tiny images are changing the way we communicate. More than 90 percent of the online population uses emojis, according to marketing platform Emogi’s 2015 Emoji Report. Women are the most frequent users, counting for 78 percent.

The report found that consumers use emojis to more accurately express what they’re thinking or to increase understanding.


David Westerman doesn’t use emojis much for that reason—he doesn’t know what many of them mean. Westerman, an assistant professor, studies how people use technology to communicate, in addition to teaching classes at North Dakota State University.

Like other languages, if someone doesn’t know what the symbols mean, the communication looks like nonsense, he says.

In his classes, he asks students “If Shakespeare were here today, would he understand what we’re saying?” Would the Bard know two heart-eye emojis with a star between equals Romeo and Juliet?

But if people do understand the meaning of emojis, they can helpful in communication.

“In that sense, it’s a way that emoji can be the kind of thing that helps people feel closer to each other,” Westerman says.

Emojis can provide tone and make up for technology’s lack of nonverbal communication, too.


Emojis complete computer-mediated communication, especially in relationship-type communication, says Theresa Hest, a journalism and communications professor at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

For instance, a text reading “OK” with no emoji takes on a different meaning than a text that would include an emoji to imply tone, like a smiley face.

Sometimes, people use emojis to be passive-aggressive. Research shows that women do it more than men, Hest says.

Women often use linguistic softeners at the end of sentences and that carries over to text and online communication, too. A smiley at the end of “Just reminding you that you owe me $100” softens the statement, Hest says.

Sometimes, using emojis instead of words can be perceived as dismissive or lazy, she says.

“It’s all about that interpersonal communication and sometimes, you need to take time to form a thought,” she says.

In romantic relationships, emojis can be perceived as flirtatious, and partners often mimic each other’s communication style.

“Emojis have become part of relationships,” Hest says. “Social media is now a partner in personal relationships. It can change the nature of our relationships.”

Overall, both Westerman and Hest say using emojis can help people understand messages better as long as all parties know the meanings of emojis. And we’re still communicating with the same goals.

“We want to relate to other people, we want to be social, we want information, we want to be entertained,” Westerman says. “So it’s a lot of the same purposes for communication, we just find new ways to accomplish those goals.”

Article Written By: Anna G. Larson