:-) What? Are you stupid or something?

Smiling emoticons in work related e-mails portray low competence, according to a new study.

This was simply too good not to put up on my blog immediately.

The paper, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science on July 31st, also suggested such emojis could undermine information sharing and may not create a positive reaction regarding the communication.  The study was conducted by researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), Beer-Shiva, Israel; University of Haifa, Israel; and Amsterdam University, The Netherlands.

They conducted a series of experiments with 549 participants from 29 countries. Not a huge sample by any means, but the findings were apparently significant (in a statistical sense).

According to the study, while smiling during face-to-face communication was perceived as warm and indicated more competence with regards to the first impressions created, a text-based representation of a smile in computer-mediated communication did not have the same effect.

“Our findings provide first-time evidence that, contrary to actual smiles, smileys do not increase perceptions of warmth and actually decrease perceptions of competence,” said Ella Glikson, a post-doctorate fellow at the BGU Department of Management, Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management, according to a news release.  “In formal business e-mails, a smiley is not a smile.”

In one of the three experiments conducted, participants were asked to read a work-related email and then assess the competence and warmth of the person. While the messages remained similar for all participants, some e-mails included smileys. The researchers found that unlike face-to-face communication, smileys did not have any effect on the perception of warmth, and in fact had a negative effect regarding perception of competence.

“The study also found that when the participants were asked to respond to e-mails on formal matters, their answers were more detailed and they included more content-related information when the e-mail did not include a smiley,” said Glikson. “We found that the perceptions of low competence if a smiley is included in turn undermined information sharing.”

“When you meet somebody for the first time, face to face, smiling is normal. Is a smiley or smile by email considered equivalent? No. Really no. It does not create that perception of warmth, of friendliness. It does not achieve that, whatever we might expect,” said Arik Cheshin of the University of Haifa’s Department of Human Services, a co-author of the study, according to a report by Haaretz (a news agency).

Another experiment saw the use of a smiley compared to a smiling or neutral photograph in a work-related email. This experiment found that the smiling sender was perceived as more competent and friendly than the neutral sender.

The study also contributed to the discussion of the role of gender with regards to use and interpretation of emoticons. When the gender of the sender was unknown, participants were more likely to assume the sender was a woman if it included a smiley. According to the news release, however, this had no influence on assessing competence and friendliness.

“People tend to assume that a smiley is a virtual smile, but the findings of this study show that in the case of the workplace, at least as far as initial ‘encounters’ are concerned, this is incorrect,” Glikson concluded. “For now, at least, a smiley can only replace a smile when you already know the other person. In initial interactions, it is better to avoid using smileys, regardless of age or gender.”

I really never liked emoticons. And as of today, I intend to stop using them altogether. 🙂

About Dr Joseph Russo

Born and raised in Woodland Hills, California; now residing in Laramie, Wyoming (or "Laradise" as we call it, for good reason), with my wife Cindy, our little schnauzer, Macy Mae, and a cat named Markie. I hold a BBA from Cal State Northridge and an MBA from the University of Nevada at Reno. My first career was in business, for some 25+ years. In 2007, I shifted gears and entered the helping professions as a mental health counselor. I earned an MA in Educational Psychology and a Doctorate (PhD) in Counselor Education and Supervision. In my spare time I enjoy mentoring young and not-so-young business and non-profit executives as they go about growing their businesses and presence. I also teach part-time at the University of Wyoming, in both the Colleges of Education and Business.
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