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Gen Xers and boomers are most confused by these emojis: study

Gen Xers and baby boomers understand the meanings behind emojis, but they are not confident in their ability to use them, a new study from the University of Ottawa has found.
Gen Xers and baby boomers understand the meanings behind emojis, but they are not confident in their ability to use them, a new study from the University of Ottawa has found.

They’re giving emojis a thumbs down.

Gen Xers and baby boomers understand the meanings behind the digital icons, but they are not confident in their ability to use them, a new study from the University of Ottawa has found.

“We found that older users are less likely to use emojis, use fewer emojis, and feel less comfortable in their ability to interpret emojis,” the study’s lead author, Isabelle Boutet, said in a statement.

The research, which is being called the first “comprehensive investigation” into inter-generational emoji use including adults over 60, was published this month in the journal Computers in Human Behavior Reports.

The study noted that the emoji movement gained steam in the US in 2011 when Apple added an official emoji keyboard to iOS. 700 million emojis are used daily on Facebook, and half the comments on Instagram feature an emoji, statistics show.

The Ottawa team investigated eight emojis in particular — three centered on happiness, two on sadness, two on surprise, and one on anger, SWNS reports.

The research, which is being called the first “comprehensive investigation” into inter-generational emoji use including adults over 60, was published this month in the journal Computers in Human Behavior Reports. Prostock-studio – stock.adobe.com
The research, which is being called the first “comprehensive investigation” into inter-generational emoji use including adults over 60, was published this month in the journal Computers in Human Behavior Reports. Prostock-studio – stock.adobe.com

240 adults between the ages of 18 and 80 were shown each emoji in a random order.

The participants rated the intensity with which the emoji conveyed each emotion.

The researchers analyzed the frequency, diversity, ease of interpretation, and interpretation accuracy to understand how age influences emoji use.

The study revealed that the most difficult emoji for older adults to interpret was the surprised “wide eyes” emoji, which is a yellow blushing face looking speechless with its eyes wide open and eyebrows raised.

More shockingly, the second most difficult category was happiness (the “grinning face,” “grinning face with smiling eyes,” and “smiling face with smiling eyes” were included).

“This pattern of results leads us to conclude that older users have the motivation and ability to utilize emojis, but they lack the confidence and general technology expertise needed to adapt to this mode of communication,” added Boutet, an associate professor in the School of Psychology.

The Ottawa team investigated eight emojis in particular — three centered on happiness, two on sadness, two on surprise, and one on anger. PA Wire/PA Images
The Ottawa team investigated eight emojis in particular — three centered on happiness, two on sadness, two on surprise, and one on anger. PA Wire/PA Images

The team believes it’s important to promote the use of emojis for older adults because of their ability to facilitate intergenerational interactions.

The hope is that emojis reduce loneliness and help users of all ages fulfill their social and emotional goals.

“Software developers could consider modifying existing emoji menus to facilitate their use across generations by, for example, making unambiguous emojis which older users are able to interpret more easily,” Boutet said.

“Training interventions should also be incorporated into existing community-based programs to help older users to incorporate emojis in their online interactions,” she continued.

This is not the first scholarly study on emoji usage — just last month, research published in the International Journal of Hospitality Management found customers tip more when servers and restaurants include emojis with tip suggestions on receipts.