Researchers at the University of Nottingham in the UK conducted two experiments involving nearly 200 undergraduate students.
In the first experiment the context of each message was made clear, making any sarcasm pretty unambiguous. In the second, no explicit context was described, so a message from one person to another could be taken literally or sarcastically.
Across the two experiments, the researchers tested the effect of various emoticons and punctuation on the students' perceptions of each message's sarcasm, and their perceptions of its likely emotional impact on the recipient.
The emoticons tested were the winking face ;-) and the tongue face :-P.
The researchers used the simple text-based versions of these emoticons, not the cartoon-style emoji equivalents. The punctuation marks tested were an exclamation mark, an ellipsis, or a simple full-stop.
The findings published by the British Psychological Society's Research Digest showed that when the context for a sarcastic message was explicit and unambiguous, neither emoticons nor punctuation devices did anything to increase the likelihood that it would be perceived as sarcastic.


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