How use of GIFs in online communication may affect human abilities to perceive emotions

(in progress)

I observed myself that I started to actually “say” words that mean nothing linguistically but had meaning in online language because of the shape or because it is a shortcut to a frequently-used GIF.

A screenshot of a popular GIF collection on WeChat

For example, “orz” is a frequently used “word” in online language to express frustration or giving up, because the shape is like a person kneeling down with his head to the ground. Another example is that because of the association between GIFs and keywords (a popular function of WeChat), people tend to classify their emotions in order to quickly find the appropriate GIF they want.

I would like to investigate whether this kind of behavior is common among the digital generation, and whether the tendency to form self-expression towards use of online language is undermining the ability to perceive subtle emotions.


  • Online habitats use GIFs to express their emotions.
  • They must use keywords to search for GIFs.
  • There are a limited number of keywords compared to human emotions. 
  • Online chat makes up much of human conversations. 
  • GIF users find a convenient keyword for their emotions instead of fully exploring. 


  • GIF is a form of online language. 
  • People compromise the subtleness of their emotions to find an appropriate GIF.
  • People summary (describe) their emotions with keywords tailored to find GIFs. 
  • This may lead to Decline literacy? Evaluated in level not population%.


  • How people expressed their emotions in online chats previous to GIFs’ appearance
  • How well GIFs express subtle emotions

Previous work

  • Linguistic relativity (Sapir–Whorf hypothesis): The language people use affects cognition

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