If you’ve received an email in the last ten years you’re probably familiar with either :) or :-). The emoticon has become so ubiquitous in our day-to-day communications that our brains now react to them the same way they would to real faces.
Unlike babies learning to understand emotions on faces, we don’t have innate neural response to this mix of grammatical symbols. Instead, it is something we’ve learned over time. Researcher Owen Churches explains, “emoticons are a new form of language… and to decode that language we’ve produced a new pattern of brain activity…This is an entirely culturally-created neural response. It’s really quite amazing.”
Our brains’ ability to adapt to this cultural communication is another example of the incredible versatility of the human mind. How many more mysteries within are brains are still to be understood?