Investigating How Well Emotion Translates Over Text Messages




Assistant Professor of Linguistics

Project Summary

This summer I worked as a research assistant for Dr. Gareth Roberts in the Cultural Evolution of Language Lab. Under his guidance, I codeveloped an experiment with lab partner Christina Cardenas that asked the following question: How accurately does emotion via visual cues and verbal expression translate over texting between a sender and receiver? In the experiment, two participants (the sender and receiver) are seated in front of computers in separate cubicles. The sender is shown a video of an actor saying a sentence while expressing one of six basic emotions. The sender then relays the spoken message to the receiver using a texting interface. Both participants identify and rate the intensity of the emotion being expressed and the disparity between the two ratings is compared. Three different conditions are used for comparison: one with the use of emoji, one without the use of emoji, and one where the sender can represent the video’s sentence in their own words (from the perspective of the actor). These different conditions shed light on whether the transfer of emotion is significantly affected by emoji usage and extended descriptions. After officially running the experiment during the upcoming year, it is predicted that more emotion will be “lost in translation” over texts that do not feature emoji than over texts that do feature emoji. Additionally, it is predicted that letting the sender represent the video sentence in their own words will help ensure better transfer of emotion over text.

Entering this summer without any research experience in the field of linguistics, I had to quickly learn the language and methods of the field in general and of Dr. Roberts’ lab in particular. Reading numerous peer-reviewed articles and conducting a literature review in a specific area of focus, as well as running trials for the lab, gave me invaluable exposure to linguistics research on all levels. Being able to continue my experiment during the school year will allow me to build on the base I have developed this past summer. As I decide what field I want to ultimately go into, I can use the skills I’ve learned to get further involved in research across a variety of fields in the social sciences. My newly gained critical thinking skills, experience with human subjects, and experiment development techniques will help me excel in whatever area I choose going forward.