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Women Have Greater Knowledge of Emojis Than Men Do

New study offers insights into how emoji use differs between men and women.

Since they originated on Japanese cell phones in 1990s, emojis haven taken the world by storm. They are an increasingly important form of communication not just among millennials, but for older generations as well.

The main reason for emoji use in text messages is to add more emotion to a message. However, it is not always always easy to know the exact meaning of a specific emoji. Some, like the “face with tears of joy," are pretty much universally understood, while other emojis can have different meanings for different groups of people. Importantly, some emojis can be used to communicate completely different emotions within different groups. For example, the “loudly crying face” emoji can communicate both intense sadness and overwhelming joy (e.g. I am so happy, I must cry).

As emojis are used more and more in everyday life, it is important to understand how people use them. A new study by Jones and colleagues (2020) was aimed at investigating gender differences in emoji use, familiarity with emojis, and the perceived emotions emojis signified. To this end, researchers used an online questionnaire to investigate these parameters for 70 Apple iOS facial emojis in a cohort of 299 college students (163 women and 136 men).

The students had to look at each emoji for two seconds and then answer the following questions on a 11-point scale:

  • How positive/negative do you find the above emoji?
  • How familiar do you find the above emoji?

Moreover, they also had to rate how familiar they were with each emoji on a six-point scale.

The students also had to indicate how often they sent or received emojis in four different contexts:

  • Text messaging on one’s smartphone.
  • Within Facebook posts or comments.
  • On other social media apps or sites like Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat.
  • In emails.

Lastly, the students had to indicate how often they sent emojis to different groups of people, such as partners, friends, family members, co-workers, professors, or supervisors.

Women generally rated the emotional valence of emojis more negative than men did. In particular, negative and neutral emojis were perceived as more negative by women than by men. For positive emojis, there was no gender difference in perceived emotional valence. This is in line with previous studies suggesting that women generally tend to view negative facial emotions more negatively than men do. For familiarity, there was also a gender difference: Women were more familiar with both positive and negative emojis than men—but not neutral ones.

The higher familiarity with emojis shown by women might be a result of the finding that women also reported higher general emoji usage than men did. This effect was mostly driven by the fact that women used more emojis when texting with their families and friends. For the other three contexts, there was no statistically significant gender difference. Also, no gender differences were observed for communication with professors or supervisors. (Here, both men and women showed generally low rates of emoji use.) Similarly, no gender differences in emoji use were observed in communication with intimate partners: Both men and women showed equally high rates of emoji usage.

Taken together, the findings show that on average women have a greater knowledge of emojis than men do, and that they use them more often than men do. Also, women viewed the emotions signaled by negative and neutral emojis as more negative than men did.


Jones LL, Wurm LH, Norville GA & Mullins KL (2020). Sex differences in emoji use, familiarity, and valence. Computers in Human Behavior, in press.

More from Sebastian Ocklenburg, Ph.D.
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