Skip to content
  • How Facebook Used Science To Design More Emotional Emoticons

    Popsci - 05/16/2013

    In 1872, Charles Darwin published The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, a book that cataloged emotional expressions in humans and their link to the animal world. In the book, Darwin described more than 50 universal emotions. Now Facebook, with the help of a psychologist who studies emotions and a Pixar illustrator, has turned some of the emotions Darwin described in the 19th century into a set of emoticons. The hope: to create emoticons that better capture the vast range of human emotion.

    “This all began we were looking at the kind of issues people were reporting to Facebook,” Facebook engineer Arturo Bejar tells Popular Science. “The reports had to do with things Facebook didn’t need to act on, but things people should address–what should happen when you say something that’s upsetting to me or put up a photo I didn’t like?”

    Around that time, he met Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor at UC Berkeley who studies emotions and social interaction, and invited him to become a scientific partner with Facebook in early 2012, “getting people to be kinder and more polite to make for more compassionate communication,” as Keltner describes.

    They started looking at how compassion research could help Facebook address the kind of interpersonal conflicts the company saw emerge in issue reporting. When people inserted a little more emotion into their messages asking friends to take down photos, Facebook found, the friend was more likely to respond or comply rather than just ignore the message.