The brain interprets sarcasm in emoji the same way as in words, study shows
*The native English-speaking college-aged student brain (It’s still a super neat study on the growing utility of emoji as supralinguistic feature, which could be helpful for nonverbal, neurodivergent, or D/deaf communication, but always take note of which brains are tested in a claim regarding The Brain™).
The brain interprets irony or sarcasm conveyed by an emoji in the same way that sarcasm is conveyed verbally, according to a new report from researchers at the linguistics department of the University of Illinois
Researchers measured brain activity of native English-speaking college students reading sentences using various emoji at the end. They read sentences with positive, negative or ironic emoji at the end.
An example used in the study was “You are such a jerk” followed by smiling, frowning and winking emoji.
The students then had to answer questions about how they interpreted the sentences.
Some read them literally. But those who said emoji influenced their interpretation showed different brain activity — similar to that in previous studies around sarcasm.
“It’s as if the brain reads the sentence one way, sees the emoji and then updates its interpretation to fit the new information,” said Benjamin Weissman, one of the linguists. “There are lots of complex linguistic functions they can serve.”
So there you have it. Emoji aren’t necessarily just fun additions to text. They inform meaning and interpretation.