Emoticon has been commonly used in computer-mediated communication (CMC) to increase the richness of the messages, and it has also become part of the culture in IM communication. I have conducted an experiment on how emoticon may have influence on users when interpreting instant messages. We found smiling emoticons have higher impact on the affect intensity (the valence) than frowning emoticons in negative messages.
Each participant was asked to rate the affect intensity of the same 36 IM messages. AIM (American Online Instant Messaging) was used to construct the messages for the experiment. In order to simulate a realistic environment, the messages were presented on a computer desktop with background graphics in PowerPoint format. The participants read the message on the screen and marked their responses on paper. The messages presented in 3 different orders. Participants were given two breaks during the rating session. Eleven subjects, ranging in age from 22 to 35, volunteered, using a PC laptop in a student lounge. Their experience with IM ranged from novice to expert users of two years and greater (most were experts)
Surprisingly, emoticons did not increase the positivity of all messages. Rather emoticons increased the valence of messages in the same direction as these messages were intended (positive messages viewed as much more positive and negative messages viewed as much more negative). In this respect, they functioned to make messages more extreme in a way that punctuation marks did not.
The analysis found emoticons had a much higher impact on messages when no exclamation mark was used. It had also indicated that participants were more influenced by emoticons on positive messages. In another words, happy-face emoticons had a higher impact to increase the valence of the messages than the unhappy-face emoticons.
Research project. Completion date: Dec 2002