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If you want to make a good impression with a potential employer or other formal contact, don’t send an email with a smiley emoticon, as it could express the opposite of what you intend. That is the advice of a study by Dr. Arik Cheshin of the University of Haifa’s department of human services, who has published his findings in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Cheshin conducted the study over the past two years with Dr. Ella Glikson of the Faculty of Management at Ben-Gurion University, and Prof. Gerben van Kleef of the University of Amsterdam.
The research found that a smiley is not regarded the same way as a smile and can actually hurt the initial impression created in formal work-related emails.
While an actual smile on your face helps to create an initial impression, adding a smiley can harm the person who included it in his or her email, Cheshin said.
“They do not really express the emotions of people who send them. There is an interpretation gap between sender and receiver.”
In recent years, physical meetings in offices have been increasingly replaced by email correspondence and online textual interactions.
In these types of communication, it is impossible to see facial expressions.
Accordingly, people often try to create a positive first impression by using emojis, and particularly the smiley.
The researchers ran a series of four experiments on 549 participants from 29 countries to examine the impact of smileys in creating a first impression. The subjects were asked to read work-related emails from someone they did not know and then asked to evaluate the competence and warmth of the person who sent the email.
Some of the emails related to formal work matters, while others related to less formal aspects of work, such as an invitation to a party related to the workplace.
The participants all received similar texts, some of which included smileys while others did not, and some of which included a photograph of the sender smiling while in others the sender was not smiling.
In the emails that did not include the sender’s photograph, it was impossible to determine their gender.
The findings show that when a photograph was included, a smiling sender was perceived as more competent and friendly. The researchers note that this is similar to the pattern seen in face-to-face interactions.
However, when emails on formal work-related matters included a smiley, the sender was perceived as less competent.
The smiley did not influence the evaluation of the sender’s friendliness. In emails relating to less formal matters, the smiley led the sender to be perceived as more friendly, but did not influence the evaluation of competence.
The study also found that when the participants were asked to respond to emails on formal matters, their answers were more detailed and they included more content-related information when the email did not include a smiley. The researchers sought to examine whether the inclusion of smileys influenced the perceived gender of the senders of the emails. They found that recipients were more likely to assume that the email was sent by a woman if it included a smiley, though this did not influence the evaluation of competence or friendliness.
For now at least, a smiley can replace a smile only when you already know the other person. In initial interactions, it is better to avoid using smileys, regardless of age or gender, the researchers concluded.
Asked by The Jerusalem Post whether a smiley had less of a negative effect on a smartphone, where emojis are very popular, Cheshin suggested that it could be true, as it is a less-formal medium, but that on Facebook, it might be the same as on an email. Asked whether the hundreds of available emoticons – such as the feces and finger images used by Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister’s son, in a recent Facebook post to attack the Molad organization, which is suing him for alleged libel – could have the same bad impact on impressions, Cheshin said that the study included only smileys.