How Emojis Could Determine Your Place on the Autism Spectrum

We use emoticons to punctuate tweets or text messages, but did you know that these icons can [maybe sorta] lend insight into where people fall along the autism spectrum? That's the premise of Genevieve Belleveau's Emoji Autism Facial Recognition Therapy, a performance art piece that showed at this year's Emoji Art Show in Manhattan.

During the show, Belleveau sat by an "Emoji Recognition Chart" and presented visitors with scenarios, such as hypothetical breakups, and had them choose the emojis that would apply to how they would feel. The process then played out in the following way:

If you chose the red-faced emoji (which, according to Siri, is pouting) to answer that hypothetical question, you would not land as highly on the spectrum as someone who crafted a detailed reply using the pig, the knife, and the broken heart. Your ability to recognize the meaning of each emoji and sufficiently understand the nuances to string them together determines your place on the scale.


In other words, Belleveau explained how someone who gives a blunt, literal answer to her query might show signs of Asperger's versus someone whose answer is more nuanced. This doesn't mean, of course, that everybody who answers literally can be clinically diagnosed with such a disorder, but it allow people to learn more about how it works, and thus cut down on the stigma and misunderstanding that autism sufferers face.

And in true art world fashion, Emoji Autism Facial Recognition Therapy toys with the lofty question of whether everybody can be put on the spectrum, and how the language we use determines how we understand typical/atypical behavior. Who knew that such seemingly frivolous emoticons could be put to such thoughtful use?

Image via RypeArts/Shutterstock

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