Emoticons are getting more popular as the new communication channel to express feelings in online communication. Although familiarity to emoticons depends on cultures, how exposure matters in emotion recognition from emoticon is still open. To address this issue, we conducted a cross-cultural experimental study among Cameroon and Tanzania (hunter-gatherers, swidden farmers, pastoralists, and city dwellers) wherein people rarely experience emoticons and Japan wherein emoticons are popular. Emotional emoticons (e.g., ☺) as well as pictures of real faces were presented on a tablet device. The stimuli expressed a sad, neutral, or happy feeling. The participants rated the emotion of stimulus on a Sad–Happy Scale. We found that the emotion rating for the real faces was slightly different but similar among three cultural groups, which supported the “dialect” view of emotion recognition. Contrarily, while Japanese people were also sensitive to the emotion of emoticons, Cameroonian and Tanzanian people hardly read emotion from emoticons. These results suggested that the exposure to emoticons would shape the sensitivity to emotion recognition of emoticons, that is, ☺ does not necessarily look smiling to everyone.

Source: Is ☺ Smiling? Cross-Cultural Study on Recognition of Emoticon’s EmotionJournal of Cross-Cultural Psychology – Kohske Takahashi, Takanori Oishi, Masaki Shimada, 2017