The role of emoji in message comprehension.

Emoji (and emoticons) have emerged as substitutes for nonverbal contextual features that occur in face-to-face interactions.  However, little is known about the role played by emoji in the comprehension of a sender’s intended meaning. We are exploring the possibility that emoji can facilitate the recognition of the sender’s intended meaning, as well as the neurophysiological responses to emoji when they are included in a text message.

Cross-cultural variability in emoji use.

Past research has demonstrated the existence of cross-cultural variability in various aspects of language use, including reliance on context, politeness, indirectness and others. We are examining how these differences might play out in digital communication.  We argue that the function of emoji are, in part, to serve as a substitute for nonverbal contextual features, and because of this, we expect there to be cross-cultural variability in the use of emoji.  Consistent with this argument, we have found that people from collectivist cultures use more emoji than people from individualist cultures, especially in sensitive or threatening situations. Click here to view a recent news article on cross-cultural variability in emoji use.

Predictors of Communicative Success. 

We are investigating a preliminary model in which the interpersonal process of face management, and variables (e.g., culture, individual differences, emoji) influencing its salience, can predict message characteristics and communicative success. We are conducting experiments in which one group of participants generate messages to convey specific intentions under varying conditions, with a second group of participants attempting to identify the intention being communicated. The specific issues we are examining include: (1) how the linguistic realization of specific speech acts (e.g., criticize, thank, etc.) and emotions (e.g., fear, anger, etc.) vary as a function of face-threat (2) the linguistic and nonlinguistic factors that predict successful and unsuccessful recognition of these intentions, (3) how the relationship between different intentions can influence communication errors, (4) how power differentials influence message construction and subsequent intention recognition, (5) the role of emoji in message production and intention recognition, and (6) how these process are moderated by cultural and individual differences in communication style and mentalizing capacities.

Miscommunication:  Predictors, reactions, and individual differences. 

Surprisingly, there has been little systematic empirical research on the causes and consequences of miscommunication.  We are conducting exploratory studies examining the types of miscommunication that people report occurring, as well as the consequences of these different types of miscommunication.  In addition, we are developing a self-report measure of miscommunication designed to assess individual variability in the tendency to experience miscommunication, as both a sender and a receiver.

Comprehending scalar expressions in conversational contexts

Scalar expressions are words (e.g., some) that can be ordered on a scale with respect to their strength (good/excellent, some/all). A scalar implicature occurs when the use of the weaker term (e.g., some) implies that the stronger term (e.g., all) does not hold.  Past research has examined the comprehension of scalar implicatures in sentences isolated from conversational contexts. In contrast, we are using electrophysiological techniques (ERPs) to examine multiple scalar expressions (e.g. some, sometimes, possible) when they appear in conversational contexts. For example, a current study we are conducting is examining the impact of the discourse marker “Well” on reactions to semantic and pragmatic interpretations of scalar expressions.