Investigating effects of emoji on neutral narrative text: evidence from eye movements and perceived emotional valence

Christopher M. Robus*, Christopher J. Hand, Ruth Filik, Melanie Pitchford

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)
296 Downloads (Pure)


Digital images of faces such as emoji in virtual communication have become increasingly popular, but current research findings are inconsistent regarding their emotional effects on perceptions of text. Similarly, emoji effects on reading behaviours are largely unknown and require further examination. The present study (N = 41) investigated how the position and emotional valence of emoji in neutral narrative sentences influenced eye movements during reading and perceptions of sentence valence. Participants read neutral narrative sentences containing smiling or frowning emoji in sentence-initial or sentence-final positions and rated the perceived emotional valence of the sentence. Results from linear mixed-effects models demonstrated significantly longer fixations on sentence-final emoji and longer sentence reading times when emoji were in sentence-final positions. These findings are comparable to sentence 'wrap-up' effects witnessed in the processing of lexical units during sentence reading, providing new evidence towards the way readers integrate emoji into contextual processing. However, no impact of emoji valence or position on first-pass target word processing or sentence-valence ratings were found. This would refute previous suggestions that digital faces influence text valence, raising questions about reader preference for emoji or sentence sentiment, the influence of sentence formatting, and delivery/display mechanism on these effects.
Original languageEnglish
Article number106361
JournalComputers in Human Behavior
Early online date3 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020


  • Emoji
  • reading
  • eye movements
  • valence
  • emotion


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