Emojis are commonly used for digital communication, such as text messages or on social media

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Think twice before replying to a message with just one emoji – people can interpret them differently.

Previous studies have shown that Men and women differ in judging facial expressions.. Ruth Flick at the University of Nottingham, UK, and colleagues wondered whether a person’s gender, as well as other factors, influenced their interpretation of emojis.

To find out more, they asked 253 Chinese and 270 British people aged between 18 and 84, with an almost equal split of men and women, to take part in an online survey.

The researchers chose 24 emojis that represent one of six emotions: happy, disgusted, scared, sad, surprised or angry, based on suggested words that appear when you type those words. There were four emojis per emotion representing the different designs used by Apple, Windows, Android and WeChat.

Each participant then assigned emojis to the emotion they thought was the best match.

Women’s emojis were more likely to match the emotions selected by the researchers than men’s. According to the team, it could be that women are better at recognizing facial expressions, possibly because they make more eye contact.

Younger participants also matched emojis better than their older counterparts, perhaps because they used them more.

Meanwhile, the British participants matched the emojis better than the Chinese participants, which may be because the latter group used the emojis differently. “For example, it has been suggested that they [people in China] “Rarely use the happy emoji to express happiness; instead, they use it for negative sarcasm,” according to the researchers.

“When you’re messaging someone with an emoji, you can’t just assume they’re seeing it the same way you do,” Flick says.

Isabelle Boutet According to the University of Ottawa, Canada, matching 24 emojis with only six emotions is quite limiting. Even so, “there are problems with assigning specific emotional labels to emojis when we don’t know how they are interpreted by different online communities”, she says. “For example, you would never have thought of using eggplant as an innuendo if that meaning hadn’t been developed in certain communities.”