Do all facial emojis communicate emotion? The impact of facial emojis on perceived sender emotion and text processing

Valeria A. Pfeifer, Emma L. Armstrong, Vicky Tzuyin Lai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Facial emojis can express a variety of positive and negative emotions, and are commonly used in digital, written communication. However, little is known about how emojis impact text processing and how different emoji-text combinations give rise to a sender's mental state. In this study, we investigated how facial emojis with positive valence (= happy emojis) and facial emojis with negative valence (= upset emojis) embedded in emotionally ambiguous/neutral text affect the perceived mental state of the sender using ratings (Experiment 1) and the processing of the text messages using Event-Related Potentials (Experiment 2). We predicted that (1) the same text message with happy and upset emojis would convey different sender mental states, and (2) emoji valence would affect the processing of subsequent text in valence-specific ways. Our Experiment 1 results showed that while texts with upset emojis convey specific sender mental states, texts with happy emojis convey positive emotion more generally, with no further differentiation between emojis. In ERPs (Experiment 2), we found that emojis affect subsequent text processing at N400, and emoji valence affects processing downstream at the second word. We concluded that all facial-emojis impact text processing, but happy and upset emojis carry differential social-emotional salience and impact text processing differently when content becomes available.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number107016
JournalComputers in Human Behavior
StatePublished - Jan 2022


  • ERP
  • Emojis
  • Emotion
  • Language
  • Late positive component

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Psychology(all)


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