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How To Not Sound Like You're Mad At People In Texts, According To Science

Emojis are such a minefield.

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1. If you're ambiguous in a text, people will probably interpret the message negatively.

If a friend texted you the day after a party you went to and said, "I heard about last night," would you:

a) assume they heard some good gossip from the party, or

b) assume they heard about something embarrassing you said or did at the party?

A study involving 215 undergrad students at a Canadian university published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior found that people tend to interpret ambiguous text messages, like this one, negatively.

So if you want to be kinder to your recipient, be a little clearer about your meaning.

2. So you could use a ;) to make your sarcasm clear.

In another study published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, researchers tested how winking emoticons affected someone's interpretation of a text.

They found that using a ;) at the end of an ambiguous text message made it more obvious that it was sarcastic. Which seems nice and obvious. One thing that's less obvious, though, is that the emoticon also seemed to intensify how positively or negatively the message was interpreted: A sarcastic, emoticon-less "I found your talk so boring" was interpreted as less positive than the same statement with a ;) at the end of it.

When there was already context to the text message, making the meaning clear, an emoticon made no difference to the interpreted meaning.

So if you're being sarcastic, and the person you're texting has no external clues as to your meaning, maybe you should use a winky face. Or, if a winky face makes you want to vom, you could just be clearer about your meaning in the first place.

3. Be careful: All emojis are not created equally.

Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed / Emojipedia

Emojis display differently across devices, so be careful you're not changing the meaning of your message by accident. You might be saying "Let's dance!" when you send your message from your iPhone, only to have your Android recipient think you mean something pretty different...

A study presented at a conference in May this year asked 304 people how they interpreted 15 different emojis. “We asked [the participants] to rate 15 emoji renderings on sentiment, from strongly negative to strongly positive, whether it was angry or said, happy or excited,” lead author Hannah Miller told BuzzFeed at the time.

They found that people often interpret the same emoji differently, and part of that was because it displays differently across platforms.

4. But what's even worse is that people can interpret the exact same emoji in different ways.

Not all of the difference in interpretation can be blamed on different devices – there was plenty of variation between how people interpret the exact same rendering of an emoji. For example, the grinning emoji was a particular culprit, which may in part be due to the fact that it's very similar to their grimacing emoji (😬) and they're a bit difficult to tell apart on a small screen.


5. Don't end your text with a full stop, unless you want to sound like a dick.

Kelly Oakes / BuzzFeed

Does this reply mean "Sure! I would love to!" or "I can't think of a good excuse, so I guess I have to say yes"?

In a study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, participants read responses to text messages (like those above) with and without full stops at the end. They rated the responses ending in full stops as less sincere than the ones that didn't.

There were 126 participants, including 91 women and 35 men, all of whom were students at Binghamton University in New York. Clearly this group is not representative of the entire world, but young people are the most prolific when it comes to texting, so they can surely tell us something.

The students also looked at similar messages on handwritten notes, but didn't rate handwritten notes ending in full stops as less sincere. So if you want to avoid sounding insincere, feel free to litter full stops everywhere when leaving someone a Post-it note – just leave them off when you text.

6. Be the one who initiates the conversation.

Crystal Ro / BuzzFeed

Another study published in Computers and Human Behavior last year suggests that sending a positive text to your partner every day can make you feel more satisfied with the relationship – although it does not necessarily have any effect on how satisfied they feel.

7. And make sure you text in your own words.

Jen Lewis / BuzzFeed

Initially, in that same study, the researchers decided on the exact wording of the texts participants would send. But in that experiment neither participants or their partners reported a change in relationship satisfaction. It was only when they ran a new experiment where participants had to send a positive text to their partner each day, but decided exactly what it said themselves, did they report an increase in relationship satisfaction. So it seems you've got to text in your own words to reap the benefits.