English Journal Article

Testing, filtering, and insinuating: Matching and attunement of emoji use patterns as non-verbal flirting in online dating

Poetics |


This study adds to research on digital interactions by exploring the role of emoji use patterns in online dating among young adults. Focus group data suggest emojis play a similar role as non-verbal behaviors do in an offline context, where coordination is used to ascertain mutual interest. The data shows how the degree of synchronization in emoji use patterns (such as frequency, types, and style) is used as a feedback tool to assess a chat partner’s romantic fit. Attunement of emoji use patterns between the partners is also used to signal and gage interest, for example by using suggestive emojis to “test” the other partner’s interest and intentions, or to establish a shared mood. Conversely, a lack of reciprocity is experienced as awkward or wrong and can produce insecurity and doubt. To understand this back-and-forth process of mutual suggestion and attunement, we propose a modified version of Collins’ interaction ritual model. In this model, we highlight the importance of shared interpretative schemas and interaction scripts, which set normative expectations for how emoji patterns can be used to build sexual or romantic chemistry.