Women, Texting And Emoticons
October 11, 2012

Women Use Emoticons In Text Messages More Than Men

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

If you asked someone in the late nineties what a ℠winky smile´ was, you might get a quizzical look in return.

But that emoticon, ;), along with many others, have slowly made their way into common parlance and almost become a secondary form of punctuation for texters, tweeters, and emailers.

A team of behavioral scientists from Rice University and the Georgia Institute of Technology decided to investigate how people are using the emoticon phenomenon in text messages and found females use the expressive symbols twice as much as their male counterparts, according to their report, titled “A Longitudinal Study of Emoticon Use in Text Messaging from Smartphones”.

Their study, which was published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, tabulated the information found in over 120,000 text messages during the course of 6 months that were sent by study participants who were given free smartphones but not told the purpose of the experiment.

“We believe that our study represents the first naturalistic and longitudinal study that collects real emoticon use from text messages ℠in the wild,´” said study co-author Philip Kortum, an assistant professor of psychology at Rice University, referring to previous studies that asked texters to self-report their activities.

In the experiment, data was collected from the smartphones that included time-stamped text messages, number of words in each text, and the amount and type of emoticon(s) used. Privacy of each participant was maintained by keeping him or her anonymous and by permanently masking the textual content.

Every person in the study used emoticons, however, the way they used them and the frequency with which they were used varied significantly. Only 4 percent of all the text messages sent in the study contained at least one emoticon. Over 74 different emoticons were used throughout the course of the study, but three–happy, sad, and very happy–comprised 70 percent of the total messages sent by the study participants.

Most notably, the study said women were found to use emoticons twice as much as men, confirming previous studies that suggested women are more expressive in nonverbal communication. These women used more emoticons per message and more emoticons per word that they used.

The report also discussed the reasons behind the rise in popularity behind text, or SMS, messaging. It said the succinct nature of the medium offered people the chance to communicate without the context required in other forms of social interaction.

“Texting does not appear to require as much socio-emotional context as other means of nonverbal communications,” Kortum added. “It could be due to texting´s simplicity and briefer communication, which removes some of the pressures that are inherent in other types of non-face-to-face communication, like email or blogs.”

The researchers also found that men used a wider range of emoticons. They theorized this could be due to women using a smaller set of symbols for a wider range of uses. Since the study was not designed to determine the intent of the messages, they wrote that future studies should investigate how emoticons are used and in what context.