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CYBERPSYCHOLOGY, BEHAVIOR, AND SOCIAL NETWORKING

Volume 18, Number 2, 2015


Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.
DOI: 10.1089/cyber.2014.0129

Examining How Gender


and Emoticons Influence Facebook Jealousy
Michael B. Hudson, BA,1 Sylis C. Nicolas, MA,2 Molly E. Howser, MS, CF-SLP,3 Kristen E. Lipsett, BS,1
Ian W. Robinson, BS,4 Laura J. Pope, MS,1 Abigail F. Hobby,1 and Denise R. Friedman, PhD1

Abstract

Facebook use among young adults is widespread, and understanding how it affects romantic relationships has
practical, real world implications. Both gender and amount of time spent on Facebook have been associated
with online jealousy. Emoticons can be used online to clarify messages and are often used in mixed gender
interactions. A series of studies was used to examine whether gender and emoticons interacted to influence
Facebook jealousy. Interestingly, results differed based on qualitative and quantitative responses. With quantitative responses, a main effect was found only for gender. Females displayed more Facebook jealousy than
males. With qualitative responses, an interaction was found. Males were more jealous when a winking emoticon
was present, while females were more jealous when no emoticon was present. This research supports evolutionary work in suggesting that specific cues may differentially influence jealousy responses in males and
females. It should be mentioned that although differences were noticed, they may be contingent upon the
research methods utilized and that mixed methods may best address issues involving jealousy in young adults.

There are also differences in the types of cues that elicit


jealousy in males and females.10,11 Women react more
strongly to cues indicating emotional infidelity, whereas men
react more strongly to cues indicating sexual infidelity.10,11
While these findings have been consistent offline, supporting
evolutionary work,10,11 investigating jealousy in online
modalities seems to render opposing results.4,12

Introduction

eveloping intimate relationships is a key developmental milestone for young adults,1 who are heavy users
of social networking sites (SNS).2 Understanding how interactions in these domains affect their relationships is important.3 Facebook jealousy is considered to be a unique
phenomenon arising from the misinterpretation of ambiguous
information involving romantic partners.4 Facebook jealousy
has been positively correlated with time spent on Facebook4
and has also been associated with gender. In the case of
gender, females display more Facebook jealousy than males.4
The current study sought to examine whether additional cues,
specifically emoticons, would increase Facebook jealousy.

SNSs and jealousy

As more and more communication takes place through the


medium of the Internet, individuals are increasingly looking
for romantic partners through SNSs.12 As a result, it has
become easier for users of the Internet to engage others romantically or flirtatiously in a discreet and inconspicuous
forum. This has definite implications for those who are in a
romantic relationship and are active users of the Internet; the
opportunities for infidelity have increased, giving rise to the
relatively new phenomenon known as cyber-cheating.12
Whitty13 found that both sexes consider various forms of
online infidelity to be a definite act of cheating. Both sexes
viewed online flirting as analogous to face-to-face flirting,
though differences in the perception of online infidelity
were observed. Guardagno and Sagarin12 found that online

Gender and jealousy

Romantic jealousy is a complex emotion comprised of


different parts, including anger, sadness, and fear5 caused by
a partners suspected or actual infidelity.69 Gender differences in how males and females react to jealousy-evoking
scenarios have been identified. Females generally exhibit a
more profound emotional response, whereas males generally
exhibit a more violent or aggressive behavioral response.10
1

Department of Psychology, Roanoke College, Salem, Virginia.


Department of Psychology, Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan.
Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Radford University, Radford, Virginia.
4
School of Dentistry, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia.
2
3

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infidelity elicits the same gender-specific responses predicted


by evolutionary psychology pertaining to real world infidelity.10,11 That is, men were far more jealous of cybersex than
emotional cheating, whereas women displayed the opposite
trend. In addition, women were reported to have stronger
overall distress reactions.10,11 This is perhaps due to the logistical nature of romantic communication that takes place
over the Internet. Messages sent and received over the Internet afford the user a better opportunity to engage in emotional infidelity rather than sexual infidelity, perhaps more so
on SNSs where a user is identifiable. Facebook in particular
allows users access to large amounts of information concerning romantic partners, in the form of status updates, wall
posts, pictures, profile information, and inbox messages.
Muise et al.4 found that women display more Facebook
jealousy than men, supporting their stronger overall distress
reactions,10,11 but failing to examine gender-specific responses. Given the nature of Facebook and its wide and
steadily growing use, it is clear that the Web site has significantly contributed to the phenomenon of cyber-infidelity.4
Emoticons as contextual cues

Communication over e-mail or social networks such as


Facebook has several disadvantages, which may lead to miscommunication or misinterpretation. Rezabek and Cochenour14
noted that the use of computer-mediated communication
(CMC) can give rise to ambiguity due to a lack of contextual
information. Face-to-face communication, in contrast, employs
cues such as voice tone, head nodding, facial expressions,
posture, and eye contact that can typically help clarify or emphasize verbal messages. The lack of such cues in CMC has led
to the use of emoticons, which can help clarify text-based
messages by conveying emotional content or moderating message tone (i.e., sarcasm).1517 Lo18 found that emoticons have
the potential to alter the interpretation of a message significantly, both in terms of direction (positive or negative interpretation) and strength.
Gender and emoticon use

The use and interpretation of emoticons between sexes


holds significant implications for scenarios involving cyberinfidelity. Older studies show no difference in frequency of
emoticon use between males and females, though males used
emoticons mostly when interacting with women or mixed
sex groups.19,20 In one older study, happy emoticons (i.e.,
smileys) were used most frequently among men and women,
accounting for more than 50% of emoticons used, while flirty
emoticons (i.e., winks, tongues) accounted for only 5%.19
Other studies suggest that emoticons were used frequently as
a means of conveying a flirtatious/teasing tone in messages,
particularly among males.20,21 More recent descriptive work
indicates specific emoticons have been linked to greater use
on Twitter and in texting.22,23 Specifically, smiling emoticons were ranked 33rd out of the 100 most used emoticons
on Twitter, while winking emoticons were ranked 20th out of
100.22 In texting, smiles were ranked as the most used
emoticon, with winks reported as the 3rd most used emoticon.23 Because Facebook allows public and private communication, Twitter may more closely represent public
displays (e.g., wall posts), while texting may more accurately

HUDSON ET AL.

represent private displays (e.g., messenger). With texting, it


was found that smiling emoticons were interpreted most
often as happiness (91.7%), while the winking emoticon was
interpreted most often as flirting (88.9%), teasing (80.6%),
and sexual advance (72.2%).23 Furthermore, while the
Twitter study22 did not examine gender interpretations of the
emoticons, the texting study indicated that men and women
did not interpret the emoticons differently.23
An unexplored area is how emoticon use may influence
jealousy in online interactions. In the current study, emoticons were added to private messages to examine whether the
evolutionary argument was supported. The evolutionary argument theorizes that women are more jealous of their
partners emotional infidelity, whereas men are more jealous
of their partners sexual infidelity. Support for this sex difference in reactions to the threat of real or perceived infidelity has come from numerous studies.2428 Specifically,
this study examined whether the evolutionary argument would
be supported in that women would be more jealous over
emotional infidelity, represented by scenarios with no emoticon (based on the interaction platform Facebook messenger) and the smiling emoticon (which is used most
commonly to share happiness), while men would be more
jealous over sexual infidelity, represented by scenarios with a
winking emoticon.
Goals and hypotheses

A series of studies was conducted, using mixed methodology,29 to examine the role of gender and emoticons in
Facebook jealousy. It was hypothesized that:
H1: Women would display more Facebook jealousy than
men.
H2: Participants who viewed a Facebook message with an
emoticon would report more Facebook jealousy than those
who viewed a message with no emoticon. Specifically,
winking emoticons were hypothesized to cause the most
Facebook jealousy.
H3: Men would be more jealous than women when a
winking emoticon was present, whereas women would be
more jealous than men when a smiling emoticon (study 3
only) or no emoticon was displayed.

Method
Overview

Three studies were conducted to determine whether


emoticons and gender have an effect on Facebook jealousy.
Studies varied in focusing on either qualitative or quantitative responses and on the number of emoticon conditions
investigated.
Procedure

In all three studies, participants were asked to imagine


being in a committed relationship when borrowing their
significant others (SO) laptop to check e-mail. The SOs
Facebook account was open with an inbox message from a
member of the opposite sex. The message stated: What are
you up to later? Participants were randomly assigned to
either the control condition with no emoticon or an experimental condition with an emoticon. Participants were then

GENDER, EMOTICONS, AND FACEBOOK JEALOUSY

asked to respond to the scenario and complete a demographic


questionnaire.
Study 1
Participants

Participants included 83 traditionally aged (M = 19.94


years; SD = 1.80 years) college students (42 females) from a
small liberal arts college in the Southeastern part of the
United States. Participants were primarily heterosexual
(98.8%). Most participants were underclassmen (65.8%),
and less than half were currently in a relationship (42.1%).
Average grade point average (GPA) was 3.07 (SD = 0.537).
Procedure

Participants were randomly assigned to the scenario with


either no emoticon or a winking emoticon. After reading the
scenario, they were asked to share likely behavioral and
emotional responses via a survey.
Materials
Qualitative responses. In an open-ended question, par-

ticipants were asked how they would react, both emotionally


and behaviorally, upon finding the inbox message. Reactions
were coded from mild to extreme (e.g., ignoring the message,
closing out of Facebook, reasoning through the situation with
the SO, altering the Facebook page, stalking the person who
sent the message, investigating the SOs Facebook page and
inbox more closely, confronting the SO in an upset manner,
confronting the sender via Facebook, seeking retribution
outside Facebook, desire to throw, break, or punch something, and/or considering physically harming the sender or
SO). A total of 67.5% of participants said they would likely
talk to their partner about the message, though most indicated additional reactions. Of the responses indicated, chisquare analyses indicated significant gender differences,
where women were more likely to confront their partner
( p = 0.048) and confide in another person about finding
the message ( p = 0.047), while men were more likely to get
back at their partner ( p = 0.019), get back at the sender
( p = 0.041), and display general aggressiveness ( p = 0.041).
Responses were coded, blind to conditions, for extremity
using a 10-point scale, with higher scores representing more
intense jealousy responses (M = 3.65, SD = 1.29). Interrater
reliability was established (a = 0.91).
Results

A 2 2 (M/F no emoticon, winking emoticon) quasiexperimental between-subjects analysis of variance (ANOVA) was conducted to examine the effects of gender and
emoticons on Facebook jealousy. There was no significant
main effect for gender, F(1, 79) = 2.526, p = 0.116, nor was
there a significant main effect for the emoticon condition,
F(1, 79) = 0.253, p = 0.617. Therefore, hypotheses 1 and
2 were not supported. However, there was a significant
genderemoticon interaction, F(1, 79) = 4.456, p = 0.038,
g2 = 0.053. Males (M = 7.05, SD = 2.31) displayed higher
jealousy scores than females (M = 6.27, SD = 2.09) in the
winking condition, while females (M = 8.15, SD = 2.01)
displayed higher jealousy scores than males (M = 6.02,

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SD = 3.07) in the no emoticon condition. Hypothesis 3 was


supported.
Study 2
Participants

Participants included 111 traditionally aged (M = 19.87


years; SD = 1.52) college students (60 females) from a small
liberal arts college in the Southeastern part of the United
States. Participants were primarily heterosexual (98.2%).
Most participants were underclassmen (64%), and half were
currently in a relationship (50.5%). Average GPA was 3.02
(SD = 0.565).
Procedure

Participants were randomly assigned to the scenario with


either no emoticon or a winking emoticon. After reading the
scenario, they were asked to complete the Facebook Jealousy
Scale.4
Materials

Participants were asked to complete the Facebook Jealousy Scale4 in response to the scenario. Participants scored
between 31 and 155 (M = 88.159, SD = 30.228). Higher
scores indicate greater jealousy responses.
Results

A 2 2 (M/F no emoticon, winking emoticon) quasiexperimental between-subjects ANOVA was conducted to


examine the effects of gender and emoticons on Facebook
jealousy. There was a significant main effect for gender,
F(1, 106) = 6.949, p = 0.010, g2 = 0.062. Females (M = 95.39,
SD = 29.62) displayed higher jealousy scores than males
(M = 79.48, SD = 28.9), supporting hypothesis 1. There was
no main effect for emoticon condition, F(1, 106) = 0.646,
p = 0.423, nor was there a gender by emoticon interaction,
F(1, 106) = 0.047, p = 0.829. Therefore, hypotheses 2 and 3
were not supported.
An exploratory analysis supported previous empirical
work,4 finding time spent on Facebook is positively associated with Facebook jealousy, r(109) = 0.215, p = 0.025. Additionally, cumulative GPA correlated positively with
Facebook jealousy, r(109) = 0.292, p = 0.002.
Study 3
Participants

Participants included 177 traditionally aged (M = 20.2


years; SD = 1.80) college students (94 females) from a small
liberal arts college in the Southeastern part of the United
States. Participants were primarily heterosexual (97.7%).
Approximately half students were underclassmen (53.7%),
and almost half were currently in a relationship (46.9%).
Average GPA was 2.997 (SD = 0.531).
Procedure

Participants were randomly assigned to the scenario with


no emoticon, a smiling emoticon, or a winking emoticon.
After reading the scenario, they were asked to complete the
Facebook Jealousy Scale.4

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Materials

Participants were asked to complete the Facebook Jealousy Scale4 in response to the scenario. Participants scored
between 27 and 162 (M = 89.189, SD = 32.157).
Results

To test the effect of gender and emoticons on Facebook


jealousy, a 2 3 (M/F winking emoticon/smiling emoticon/
control) ANOVA was conducted. There was no main effect
for the emoticon condition, F(2, 174) = 0.516, p = 0.598, and
no interaction, F(2, 174) = 0.759, p = 0.470. Therefore, hypotheses 2 and 3 were unsupported. However, a significant
main effect of gender emerged, F(1, 174) = 15.990, p < 0.001,
g2 = 0.087. Women (M = 98.63, SD = 3.227) scored significantly higher than men (M = 79.11, SD = 3.664) on jealousy.
Therefore, hypothesis 1 was supported.
An exploratory analysis again supported previous empirical work,4 finding trends that the frequency of accessing
ones inbox, r(168) = 0.147, p = 0.052, and time spent on
Facebook, r(168) = 0.139, p = 0.071, are positively associated
with Facebook jealousy.4 Additionally, cumulative GPA
correlated positively with Facebook jealousy, r(169) = 0.203,
p = 0.008, replicating the findings in study 2.
Discussion

Previous work has indicated that women display more


romantic jealousy than men over interactions on Facebook.4
This series of studies suggests that gender differences in
Facebook jealousy may be more nuanced when using mixed
methods. To the authors knowledge, this is the first series of
studies to examine the impact of frequently used emoticons
(now commonly used in online interactions) on jealousy
reactions (see Fleuriet et al.30 for an examination of how
nonverbal message characteristics on Facebook predict
emotional responses, indicating the timeliness of the studies
herein). When examining the extremity of open-ended jealousy responses, men were found to be more jealous in scenarios including a winking emoticon, while women were
more jealous in scenarios where no emoticon was included.
However, when examining closed-ended survey responses,
women were more jealous than men across the board.
Open-ended responses may have allowed for a more accurate and honest representation of reactions to the scenario.31 These responses were collected immediately after
reading the scenario and were not limited in length. While
most participants indicated multiple reactions to the scenario, responses were coded with respect to the most extreme
reaction noted. In this case, men were more jealous than
women when a winking emoticon was included with the
message. Given men tend to use winking emoticons to
flirt,20,21,23 and women interpret them as flirtatious as well,23
these results seemingly support evolutionary work suggesting men are more jealous of sexual infidelity and women of
emotional infidelity.2428,3235 Greater support of evolutionary work may be observed in the behavioral responses of
men and women in reaction to the scenario. Women were
more likely to confront their partner and confide in others,
while men indicated more aggressive responses in general
including getting back at the partner and the message sender.
When these responses are considered in the context of the

HUDSON ET AL.

varying emoticons, it seems that emotional infidelity online


evokes seeking social support in females, and sexual infidelity
online evokes jealousy in an aggressive form for males. Mens
aggressive reaction to perceived sexual infidelity may have real
life implications to consider. For example, romantic jealousy
has been associated with spousal abuse and uxoricide.36
Relying only on responses to the Facebook Jealousy Scale
by Muise et al.,4 women displayed more jealousy than men
regardless of whether an emoticon was included. These
findings replicated research demonstrating that women tend
to display more romantic jealousy over interactions on Facebook.4 The second and third studies in this series relied on
the same scale as the original Muise et al. study rather than
open-ended responses. The face validity of the Muise et al.
scale is high and may have led the males to respond based on
social desirability, modifying their responses to hide their
jealousy.37
In general, women are heavier users of Facebook and may
take interactions there more seriously than men, as the site
lends itself more to emotional infidelity than sexual infidelity.
However, the present study suggests that in instances when
sexual infidelity is perceived, men are prone to Facebook
jealousy. It also suggests that open-ended questions may yield
more honest, nuanced responses when dealing with a subject
where gender role expectations come into play.
Exploratory analyses supported the work of Muise et al.
that time spent on Facebook is marginally yet positively
associated with jealousy. More specifically, time checking
ones inbox is positively correlated with jealousy. Unexpectedly, cumulative GPA was positively correlated with
Facebook jealousy as well. It is possible that differences in
personality may have attributed to this relationship where
fastidious, conscientious individuals could possibly devote
as much attention to the maintenance of their relationships as
they do their schoolwork.38,39
Limitations and implications

This series of studies was conducted with traditional


college-aged students and may not generalize to the larger
population. Qualitative data were only collected for one study,
though from the same population as the other two studies, but
did indicate gender differences in Facebook jealousy.
Future work should use mixed methods to examine Facebook jealousy, as it appears to offer greater insight. Additionally, examining the link between GPA and Facebook
jealousy would help understand how other factors influence
this phenomenon. As young adults spend a considerable
amount of time on SNSs, it is wise to consider how their
relationships might be impacted.
Based on this work, it seems that roughly two-thirds of
young adults would talk to their partner about what they
found online. Understanding the interpretation of features
such as private messaging and emoticons by a partner may
help prevent behavior that will be hurtful to the partner and
even the relationship. Additionally, understanding how social media in general acts as an interface for romantic relationships helps determine how the medium may change
relationships and possibly introduce new challenges in connecting to romantic partners.40 Because developing intimate
relationships is considered an important developmental milestone for young adults,1,41 who are heavy users of

GENDER, EMOTICONS, AND FACEBOOK JEALOUSY

SNSs,2 examining how interactions in these domains affect


their relationships with romantic partners and even peers is
necessary.3 Future research should continue to explore these
issues.
Author Disclosure Statement

No competing financial interests exist.


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Address correspondence to:


Dr. Denise Friedman
Roanoke College
Department of Psychology
221 College Lane
Salem, VA 24153
E-mail: friedman@roanoke.edu