Emojis and Research: Exploring “Face Value” – Part II

A Picture of Zoe Dowling

This is part 2 of our Emojis and Research series, part 1.

Emojis. The new visual communication language. Finally, it’s one we can all understand. Or is it? In part 2 of our blog on using emojis within research, we’ll explore whether all facial emojis are created equal.

To start, let’s pose a question: What does this emoji mean to you?

 For me it means ‘clapping hands’, most often used when I’ve said something funny. Well, at least I thought it was funny! But is that how it’s interpreted by the person on the receiving end? Chances are, not so much.

In our study detailed in Part 1, the vast majority of respondents simply understand this emoji to be happy (77%). Even more interestingly, only a slim percentage (6%) interpreted it as ‘hugs’, which is how it is classified within the Unicode CLDR data.

 Another emoji that isn’t universally understood is the face with the smiling mouth and tears emerging from each eye. Most people recognize it as some form of laughing, representing various degrees of humor. That said, a small portion interpret it as sad (5%) or crying (6%), which is quite the opposite of the intent.

 More worrying however, is the lack of consensus around the grimacing face emoji. Some feel it to be nervous, anxious, scared, while others see it as stressed, angry, bad. A few even perceive it to be happy or excited. The pie chart below represents the perception breakdown of this emoji alone:


So, are you now grimacing and hastily rethinking the idea of using emojis within your research? Not so fast. There is some positive news to share.

We found that basic facial emojis, with smiles and frowns ranging from very happy to very unhappy are generally interpreted consistently across the board.  For example, the frowning face is interpreted similarly as sad (88%) or unhappy (12%) 

Furthermore, those emojis with distinct emotions and linked facial expressions, such as anger, surprise, thinking, are also understood in a consistent manner. 


Our recommendation: basic facial emojis, using the most recognizable expressions, can be used successfully to represent verbal responses. It’s a thumb friendly way to quickly communicate an answer to questions such as “how much did you enjoy…” or “how did you feel about…”.

So, we have yet another useful tool in our mobile-first research toolkit.

Now that’s something to clap about. 

Learn more about Decipher, our powerful online survey tool that was used for this research.


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