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Emoticons in IM Conversations. Past Research: IM supplies a flexible medium for a wide range of conversations (Nardi et al., 2000). According to the social presence theory, a greater number of cues result in higher levels of personal connection (Walther, Slovacek, & Tidwell, 2001).

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emoticons in im conversations
Emoticons in IM Conversations
  • Past Research:
    • IM supplies a flexible medium for a wide range of conversations (Nardi et al., 2000).
    • According to the social presence theory, a greater number of cues result in higher levels of personal connection (Walther, Slovacek, & Tidwell, 2001).
    • Past research states that first impressions are greatly influenced by faces and physical features; faces bring bias into personal interactions (McKenna & Bargh, 2000).
gender in im conversations
Gender in IM Conversations
  • Past Research:
    • Gender stereotypes implicit in society lead individuals to assign certain characteristics upon first impressions. For example, men are stereotyped as being more sarcastic than women (Witmer & Katzman, 1997).
    • same emoticons represent different emotions for men and women. Men, for example, tend to use emoticons as a means of conveying sarcasm (Riva, 2001).
    • A lack of research exists combining emoticons and text in IM conversations, which leads to questions about the role of emoticons in relation to sarcasm and gender (e.g., Baym, 1995; Riva, 2001).
sarcasm dv
Sarcasm (DV)
  • “the use of words to convey a meaning that is something other than, and especially the opposite of, the literal meaning of the words” (Bryant & Fox Tree, 2002).
  • Emoticons = Facial Expressions = Portrayal of Sarcasm
  • With emoticons more sarcastic than without
  • Gendered more sarcastic than androgynous
  • Gendered with emoticons most sarcastic condition
experimental design
Experimental Design
  • We will use a 2 (emoticon: with versus without) x 2 (gender: male versus androgynous) x 2 (character gender consistency: androgynous/androgynous versus male/androgynous) mixed groups design.
  • Emoticon use and gender are between groups variables and character gender consistency will be a repeated measures variable.
  • Participants:
    • Recruitment:
      • Dorms, Library, Wilder Basement, Dining Halls
    • N = 120 Female Mount Holyoke students
      • Androgynous with emoticons = 30
      • Gendered with emoticons = 30
      • Androgynous without emoticons = 29
      • Gendered without emoticons = 29
      • Random assignment
  • Materials:
    • Operational Definitions:
      • Emoticons: graphic faces that depict a limited set of facial expressions, display nonverbal human-like qualities (for example , , and ).
      • Intent: Sarcasm or Humor
      • Sarcasm: rated on a scale from 1-6, 6 being the most sarcastic
  • Procedure
  • DV: level of reported sarcasm in an IM conversation as measured through a survey
  • Hypothesis: the use of emoticons and the gender of the IM conversers will increase the level of reported sarcasm
  • Analysis Types: mixed design with a repeated measures ANOVA

There was a main effect of emoticons. When emoticons were present participants rated IM conversations as more sarcastic than when emoticons were not present.


W/emoticons: M=3.933, SD=0.082

W/o emoticons: M=3.179, SD=0.082

  • No main effect of gender
  • No interaction between gender and emoticons
Effects of Emoticons and Gender on the Rating of Sarcasm

Emoticon Use


With Emoticon




Without Emoticon



Gender of Conversation


Androgynous Conversation



Gendered Conversation


Mean Rating of Sarcasm



Error Bars show 95.0% Cl of Mean



Bars show Means




Character Screen Name

  • An independent groups ANOVA revealed that emoticons significantly increased participants’ detection of sarcasm in IM conversations F(1,114)=17.154, Mse =16.799, p=.000.
  • A repeated measures ANOVA showed that gender did not significantly effect sarcasm rating F(1,114)=.027, Mse=.002609, p=.871.
  • There was no significant interaction. F(1,114)=.323, Mse=.316, p=.571.

Our results are consistent with previous research regarding online communication. This research (Nardi et al., 2000) suggested that emoticons would have an effect on participants’ ability to interpret sarcasm in an IM conversation.

Past research also suggested that gender would influence interpretation of sarcasm (Witmer & Katzman, 1997; Riva,2001). However, our results did not support this research.

problems and solutions
Minor procedural issues
    • Avoid future research conducted on computers. It is a pain in the
Problems and Solutions
  • Lack of ambiguity for AsItWere13
    • Manipulate AsItWere13’s role in the conversation
  • We believe that participants did not share a common definition of sarcasm
    • Clarify survey with definitions, for example, sarcasm and anger
  • Participants did not answer all of the questions
    • Review the surveys for completeness
implications of research
Implications of Research
  • As IM becomes a more common medium of communication among the world-wide population, it is becoming more important to conduct further research on the psychological consequences of computer-mediated relationships.
  • Our research shows that emoticons play an important role in building and maintaining a more than superficial discourse.