Written by Dr. Justin R. Garcia
If you had asked me a year ago what I thought of emoticons and emojis, I would have said they are fun and entertaining, but I probably wouldn’t have thought they could help our understanding of human behavior. But as more and more people of varying ages in my own social networks – family, friends, colleagues, dates – use emoticons and emojis, and as I finally learned when to employ the dancing ladies and monkey face, I’ve come to appreciate them as something more than funny little characters. And I’ve joined the growing number of behavioral scientists who believe that emoticons and emojis are part of a new form of nonverbal communication in an age of rapid mobile interaction that can help us understand human affect – the tendency and desire to have emotional expression and engagement with others.
In this year’s annual Singles in America study done with Match, we surveyed a nationally representative sample of over 5,600 U.S. singles aged 18 to 70+ years. We asked a host of questions about emoticon and emoji use among single men and women. Our findings confirm that these characters have infiltrated language in the U.S. and have become an important part of the way people express themselves — and even flirt.
When we asked U.S. singles why they use emojis, the top three reasons were:
PERSONALITY: They give my text messages more personality (49% men, 53% women)
EMOTION: It’s easier for me to express my feelings (37% men, 36% women)
CONVENIENCE: It’s faster and easier than writing a full message (21% men, 18% women)
Today, vast numbers of Americans are using emoticons and emojis to express their personalities, inner thoughts and feelings. But be warned: While 40% of singles use emoticons and emojis regularly, nearly 75% agree that using between 1-3 of them in a conversation with a potential date is appropriate… more than that and you might just text yourself out of the dating market.
We also asked which emojis singles regularly use to flirt with a date in order to better understand their role in people’s romantic lives. The top three were:
Winky face (53% of singles)
Smiley face (38% of singles)
Kissy face (27% of singles)
And if you still doubt that emoticon and emoji users are emotionally expressive, you might be interested to know that 62% of regular emoji users who are single want to get married, compared to only 30% of non-emoji users. Moreover, single emoji users are more likely to want to find a romantic partner who is comfortable with communicating his or her wants and needs.
Emoji users are also much more likely to be actively dating, with some 52% of emoji-using singles having gone on at least one first date in 2014 (compared to 27% of singles who never use them). And emoji users were also more likely to have had sex, with 54% of emoji-using singles and 31% of non-emoji using singles reporting sexual activity in 2014. Further, when restricting ages to those in their 20s, 30s, or 40s, regular emoji users were much more likely than non-emoji users to report having sex at least once per month last year (45% of men and 40% of women vs. 26% of men and 20% of women, respectively).
Being emojional appears to be associated with a suite of dating-related activities not otherwise accounted for by gender or age alone. It appears that single emoji users are exercising modern technology to communicate and express emotions — and are, in fact, more socially engaged. Those fun and entertaining characters are changing what we know about intimate communication, flirting, and how the evolved human brain makes use of the world around it.
To see more of our findings from this year’s annual Singles in America research study, check out SinglesInAmerica.com.
Dr. Justin R. Garcia is Assistant Professor of Gender Studies and Director of Education and Research Training at The Kinsey Institute at Indiana University. His research focuses on the evolutionary bases of human romantic and sexual behaviors, and the role of close relationships in health. He is co-author of Evolution and Human Sexual Behavior (Harvard University Press, 2013). Dr. Garcia is also Scientific Advisor to Match.com and one of the principal investigators for Singles in America.