Tina Indalecio

Tina Indalecio

Curious Media

The Deliberate Nonverbal Communication Tool in Computer Mediated Communications

Emoticons are not only fun to use but may be beneficial.

Posted Jan 28, 2010

Last night when I returned from my long drive home, I went into my Facebook account and updated my mood to "tired and worn out" with the click of a button. If my friends were at my house they would have been able to see just how tired I really was, by observing my body language, voice intonation and facial expressions. However since they could not see me I thought I'd clarify just how I really felt, with a little help from an emoticon. Scott Fahlman created emoticons when he posted a message on the Carnegie Mellon University bulletin board system, on September 19, 1982 (Krohn, 2004). Emoticons originally started as simple punctuation marks and when viewed sideways resemble facial expressions. Now they have evolved into many creative richly enhanced, graphic versions. They range from happy, sad, tired, angry, cool, laughing to devilish, and many more.

Computer mediated communications (CMC) have been characterized as lacking the traditional nonverbal communication cues that occur naturally in face-to-face conversations, such as body language, facial expressions, eye contact, vocal intonation, and personal distance (Krohn, 2004). The reasoning for this is because CMC lacks actual physical presence that you have in face-to-face communications. However it seems that none of the "traditional non-verbal communication theorists foresaw the introduction of emoticons as nonverbal communication... and failed to envision nonverbal communication in electronic communication" (Krohn, 2004, p. 322). In fact some have argued that because media allows for less social presence, and creates more psychological distance, therefore CMC is less emotional, it is more impersonal and more task oriented (Derks, 2007). While the research is still very limited in this area, it is beginning to show that the use of emoticons may not only improve communications but that they may also "serve as nonverbal surrogates, suggestive of facial expression, and they may add a paralinguistic component to a message" (Derks, 2007, p. 843).

Derks (2007) found that the use of emoticons in CMC is similar to the expressions people make during face-to-face communication. However, he believes that emoticon use is deliberate and voluntary, with the potential for them to be used more unconsciously over time. Haung, Yen and Zhang (2008) found that the use of emoticons in instant messaging (IM) situations can actually speed up communication, make communicating more fun and make it easier to express emotion by using less words. They also found that, "emoticons are not only fun to use but may be beneficial because an increase in information richness is equivalent to an improvement in communication efficiency and effectiveness" (Haung et al, 2008, p. 470). From this research they concluded that the use of richly enhanced emoticons in Instant Messaging (IM) may help create a more caring and cooperative work environment (Haung et al, 2008).

So while previous nonverbal communication theorists view CMC as less social because of the lack of social cues (Derks, 2007), the limited new research is showing that the use of emoticons proves otherwise.

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