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Since the features of emoticons are not eyes and noses and mouths, the feature processing regions of the brain do not act to pull the figure into the precept of a face.

Written English is based on phonograms, so the semantic meaning associated with the symbol must be decoded through an understanding of the speech sounds indicated by the characters.

Emoticons, like logographs, are readily understandable through their visual form, and so represent a new way of communicating in written English.

Proust’s attempt to convey the specifics of emotional experience was an amazing achievement.

In the past, communicating such things sometimes required a little more complexity.

In 1913, Marcel Proust started publishing what would become In Search of Lost Time.

By the time the last volume was published in 1927, the work spanned 4,211 pages of text.

A century later, Proust’s prose is regarded as a one of the greatest examples of writing about human emotion. In the 21st century, writing on the screen places an emphasis on efficiency over accuracy.

The frequency with which emoticons are used suggests that they are readily and accurately perceived as a smiling face by their creators and recipients, but the process through which this recognition takes place is unclear.In our study, we recorded the electrical activity in brains of young adults while they watched images of emoticons and actual smiling faces.Much work has been done previously to investigate the neural systems involved in the perception of faces, and one of the most reliable findings is that faces are processed differently when they are presented upside down.This shows that emoticons are perceived as faces only through configural processes in the occipito-temporal cortex.When that configuration is disrupted (through a process such as inversion), the emoticon no longer carries its meaning as a face.In a new paper published today in Social Neuroscience, me and my colleagues at Flinders University and the University of South Australia investigated the neural processes involved in turning three punctuation points into a smiling face.This shorthand form of expressing emotional states is, of course, a relatively recent invention.Owen Churches does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.Flinders University provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU.The Conversation UK receives funding from Hefce, Hefcw, SAGE, SFC, RCUK, The Nuffield Foundation, The Ogden Trust, The Royal Society, The Wellcome Trust, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and The Alliance for Useful Evidence, as well as sixty five university members.View the full list We may not spend a lot of time thinking about the emoticons we insert into our emails and text messages, but it turns out that they reveal something interesting about the way we perceive facial expressions.

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