Smiley faces are used to express happiness, friendliness or any range of positive human emotion. But according to researchers, using them in work emails may not be such a good thing.
Scientists at the Ben-Gurion University of Negev in Israel wanted to see if using smileys – as in :) – had an effect on the message, TIME reports. They found that these emoticons do make an impression, but not the positive one the email sender might have wanted to make.
On the contrary, those who saw a happy face in a work email message thought that the sender was less competent than if the message did not contain any such characters. While smiles generally elicit warmth and may communicate competence, a smiley in email text could make the reader less enthusiastic about sharing information when replying.
Ella Glikson, one of the study’s authors and a post-doctorate fellow at the BGU Department of Management, said, “Our findings provide first-time evidence that, contrary to actual smiles, smileys only marginally increased perceptions of warmth and actually decrease perceptions of competence.” In short,
In formal business e-mails, a smiley is not a smile.
To get to this conclusion, the researchers conducted three experiments in 29 countries, with 549 respondents. In one scenario, people read anonymous work emails and graded the sender on their competence. It turned out that messages without smiley faces were deemed more competent.
When people were asked to reply to the emails, they sent more detailed information when talking to those who did not put smiley faces in their texts. “Information sharing was significantly lower in the smiley condition than in the control condition,” the study said.
The use of smiley faces also impacted the perception of the sender’s gender. When the identity of the sender was unknown, the participants were more likely to identify the email author as a woman, though this did not affect the perceived levels of competence.
The study was published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.