By the Numbers

Emoticons Are Pretty Much Human Faces To Us Now ;-)

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As we edge closer and closer to a Skynet-ruled, post-apocalyptic future, scientists have decided to give the machines a boost towards supremacy by studying how they affect our emotions.

In an Australian study of 20 participants, researchers discovered that our (meaning human) brains recognize the smiley face emoticon :-) in much the same way we recognize a true, human face. Due largely to our increased familiarity with the symbol, or rather the arrangement of symbols, researchers found that our brains best recognize the smiley when it is arranged with a colon on the left and a parentheses on the right. (And let’s not forget that emoticons with noses are exceptionally more popular than those without.)

To test their hypothesis, researchers showed participants a series of images that included the typical smiley, an inverted version (-: , human faces, flowers, and other random punctuation. Studying which parts of the brains were active while viewing the images, the researchers were able to pinpoint which sections of the brain were reacting. This allowed them to further understand how the brain was absorbing and processing the presented images, and compare it with how it processes human emotion.

Perhaps the most inspiring detail of the study, which was summed up here by Motherboard, is that the participants had more trouble identifying an inverted smiley than they did an inverted human face. That’s right; we’re better at understanding twitching muscles under a layer of stretched flesh over calcium rocks than we are at understanding punctuation. Yay emotions! Boo grammar!