Your brain no longer knows the difference between emoticons and emotion

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Does anyone know the emoticon for a vague sense of discomfort, caused by staring-down a dark and technologically alienating future?

A new study published in Social Neuroscience says that the brain has begun processing a typed emoticon with the same signals that previously only accompanied processing a real, emoting human face. Smithsonian explains:

Researchers at Australia's Flinders University showed twenty participants smiley faces, along with real faces and strings of symbols that shouldn't look like faces, all while recording the signals in the region of the brain that's primarily activated when we see faces. This signal, called the N170 event-related potential, is the highest when people see actual faces, but was also high when people saw the standard emoticon :). "This indicates that when upright, emoticons are processed in occipitotemporal sites similarly to faces due to their familiar configuration," the researchers write.


And not all emoticon-variations are equally powerful in tipping the brain's emotional scales. The classic :) or even the nose-included variation :-) are just a couple of happy new friends as far as your brain is concerned. When your brain sees this smile-variation however (-: it (very correctly) dismisses that noise as just a bunch of creepy punctuation marks huddled together in a hideous approximation of human emotion.

What do you think — have you noticed yourself warming towards the emoticons you encounter day-to-day? And are there some emoticons that work for you, while others don't?


Image: Minerva Studio/ Shutterstock.