Our brains process irony in emojis, words in the same way

The brain processes ironic emojis in the same way as ironic language, indicating emojis convey meaning in a sentence, according to research by Benjamin Weissman, a U. of I. graduate student in linguistics (left), and Darren Tanner, until recently a University of Illinois linguistics professor (right). Courtesy Benjamin Weissman and Darren Tanner

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — That winky-face emoji that you use at the end of a text isn’t just a fun picture added to your sentence. It can convey linguistic meaning that changes the interpretation of the sentence, a new study finds.

University of Illinois researchers studied the brain wave patterns of people reading sentences paired with emojis. Sometimes the emojis matched the literal meaning of the sentence, but in other cases they were construed as indicating irony. Researchers found the participants’ brains processed the ironic emojis in the same way they process ironic language.

The results of the research by Benjamin Weissman, a U. of I. doctoral student in linguistics, and Darren Tanner, until recently a U. of I. linguistics professor, appear in the journal PLOS ONE.

“Emojis are ubiquitous. They are seemingly everywhere, and people use them a lot in text messages and online along with language,” Weissman said. “But nobody in linguistics or psychology had looked at them using the experimental methods we have at our disposal, like looking at the electrical activity generated by the brain in real time. Looking at brain activity to understand how we process language is pretty common. But people hadn’t studied emojis paired with language like this.”

Editor’s notes: To reach Benjamin Weissman, email bpweiss2@illinois.edu. To reach Darren Tanner, email dstanner@gmail.com.

The paper “A strong wink between verbal and emoji-based irony: How the brain processes ironic emojis during language comprehension” is available online and from the U. of I. News Bureau.

Source: Illinois News Bureau

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Our brains process irony in emojis, words in the same way
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Our brains process irony in emojis, words in the same way
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — That winky-face emoji that you use at the end of a text isn’t just a fun picture added to your sentence. It can convey linguistic meaning that changes the interpretation of the sentence, a new study finds.