I recently got a text from a colleague with several emoji in it. At the best of times, text messages can be a little complicated to interpret because of their brevity. In fact, earlier that week, that same colleague had texted me back in response to a text about commuting in DC to confirm that I was using sarcasm.

Now, let’s throw a bunch of pictures into the mix. Enter the emoji. Was this the emoji for sick and quarantined (😷) or was it something else? Understanding tone in written communication can be a challenging task and adding emoji into the mix may be testing your emotional intelligence.

Hannah Miller and her colleagues were highly interested in how emoji were being understood. In their study, they discovered that different phones and operating systems (or even different keyboards) can present the same emoji differently. You might have thought that you sent a happy face from your iPhone, but your friend’s Samsung phone renders something just a little different. And that could lead to miscommunication.

We may think that emoji are helping to clarify our already difficult to read text messages, but we might just be wrong. We might be making our writing as difficult to read as hieroglyphics.