Exploring How We Understand Emoji – Technology Networks

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If a word in a sentence is replaced by an image, we still understand its meaning. But the detour via the image can take time.

Even when emoji are used to substitute for words, we still understand the sentence. But how does that work? Do we interpret an emoji primarily as an image or as a word? To find out, a research team from Bochum, Potsdam and Berlin asked volunteers to read texts with emoji and measured the reading time precisely. It turns out that it takes a little longer to comprehend a sentence that includes emoji than one that doesn’t. If the emoji does not directly represent the intended meaning, but another word with the same pronunciation, we need yet a little more time. Based on these results, the team concludes that emoji comprehension consists of two steps: first the image is interpreted, then the word is inferred. The study was published in Computers in Human Behavior on 25. October 2021.

The study was carried out in a collaboration between Prof. Dr. Tatjana Scheffler, assistant professor for Digital Forensic Linguistics at the German Studies Institute at Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB), and colleagues from the University of Potsdam and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin.