Is the Internet information rich and emotion poor?

by User Not Found | September 17, 2012

I am working on a presentation about how our instincts, motivations and mindset affect our online behavior. Reviewing information and content for the presentation got me wondering about how well emotions are conveyed on the Internet. We may “like” something on Facebook but how much emotion does that really convey?

Simply reflecting on my own online behavior suggests a lot of it is task oriented. I only use the Internet for entertainment when I am bored, and even then it rarely extends beyond Flipboard and Facebook. Most of the content I access via Flipboard is information not entertainment. And even when I connect with friends on Facebook, it may raise a smile but usually little more. For me, the Internet does not generate the same degree of emotion as talking on the phone or interacting in person.

Maybe it is just me, but maybe it is the medium. Dom Twose, Global Head of Knowledge Management, recently sent me a quick note clarifying a chart derived from research by Albert Mehrabian. The research refers to the communication of feelings and attitudes and suggests that words account for only 7 percent of that communication. Tone of voice accounts for 38 percent and non-verbal, “body language,” accounts for the remaining majority.

Dom was actually warning me that the data refers only to feelings, not all communication, but the implications are interesting. If you are not an ardent online video watcher, then most of the content is pictorial and verbal. Is it possible that this undermines the Internet’s ability to communicate feelings?

If I understand it correctly, Mehrabian was suggesting that "total liking" is the "total communication of the feeling of liking." As Dom explained to me, if he was trying to communicate to me that he liked something, I’d get the message from a combination of what he said, the tone of his voice and his facial expression. Dom put it this way, “So if I ate an orange and told you I really liked it, but screwed my face up, you'd likely conclude I didn’t really like it.”

So maybe the Internet is a great way to communicate information but a poor way to communicate emotion. What do you think? Has anything you have seen online really moved you? And was it video, pictures or words only? Please share your thoughts. 


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  1. liff, October 10, 2012
    I personally believe that it all depends on the recipient of such information. Not all people are the same, everyone has his experiences or moments in life that involved intense emotions and if that feeling is being triggered by the information presented to him by the internet, then he will be emotionally affected by it even up to his subconscious level. The internet has all the best strategies and techniques of conveying emotion to the world and it keeps getting better as I see it, compared before. 
  2. Meron Wambui, October 01, 2012
    I personally think that emotions can be conveyed anyway,one can cry,laugh,smile,laugh or be sad. We don"t have to speak them out,actions portray them better thus non verbal,thet' why your chart give non-verbal the largest percent,thus in m opinion the internet communicates emotions pretty well in a way.
  3. Alex Garnica, September 19, 2012
    There was recently an experiment in Mexico to monitor the incidence of bigotry in twitter through offensive or discriminatory hashtags, such as #zorra (sort of #tramp but harder)
    The experience shows that negative emotions are clearly portrayed in the internet, regardless of the brevity of communication.
    According to some linguist experts there is what they call the Polyanna effect, which means that people tends to use more frequently and with a great variety of words positive phrases instead of negative ones. Would that apply to the Internet as well?
  4. Gordon, September 18, 2012
    One of the things that depresses me about the web is the sheer amount of hate out there.  You don't have to scan through many comments on any YouTube video to find something angry and annoying.  Twitter has  allowed it to be perfected it into an art form.  So words certainly do convey, carry and evoke emotions.  Beyond that - so much web content is now video which is perfectly able to evoke a rich range of emotions.  I probably spend half my time on the web watching video content. Everything from TED talks to Gangnam style videos.  So there you go - anger, surprise, happiness, disgust, sadness and hate - its all there on the web.
  5. phil herr, September 18, 2012
    Gee, what are "emoticons" for if not to communicate emotion? Seriously, as Dom noted, emotion can be evoked via words.

    To my mind, the issue comes down to what we, as readers, are investing in the activity. Nigel seeks information and occasionally distraction. Dom's daughters probably have more invested in their online activity. So I'd suggest that the online activity is an exchange of feelings, potentially emotions. And much of what you get is what you bring to it.  
  6. Graham Staplehurst, September 18, 2012
    Hi Nigel,

    Great thought-provoker.  On the figures from Mehrabian, around half (of emotion) is conveyed by words + tone.  Don't you think that the internet has tone?  When I DECIDE TO SHOUT IN CAPITALS or use other emphasis then I'm giving tone to the words.  And if you look at the real internet generation (I'm thinking of my teenage sons here) they are stretching words all the time to communicate tone.  Here's an example:


    OK, so I'm not exactly sure what emotion is being conveyed here, but clearly it's not a rational statement.  There aren't many other extracts I can post as examples without causing offense, but you get the idea.  Plus there are emoticons, the posting of pictures (or videos) together with the words, and so on.  Our methods of communicating are evolving - and perhaps Mehrabian's work needs to be revisited in the light of this evolution.
  7. Arun Ravi, September 18, 2012
    Hi Nigel...great article. I initially was under the same impression but after working on a healthcare project where I found that patients with depression were treated for internet addiction as a symptom, it changed drastically. People were spending around 34 hours on average per month on the web and it had become a form of escape for them. So understanding that initial need to "get away" made me research this more. After developing tools for psychiatrists to help track their patients online, I came up with Mevoked ( Essentially I am trying to do what you talk about, using emotional tagging to enhance discovery outside of your social feed. The social side is to help me develop an analytics dashboard which will give insight into behavior. In the end the internet is dominating a lot of our time and we are moving beyond using it as a tool, its become a huge part of our existence. Anyway not trying to make a shameless plug but I was pleasantly surprised to see this post! Great job!


  8. Dominic, September 17, 2012
    I think there are two different things here; the communication of emotion and the generation of emotion.

    In terms of the communication of emotion, I'm delighted you've posted about Mehrabian. I've sat through too many presentation training courses that trot out this statistic without thinking how implausible it is as a generalisation. But, yes, if presented with all three inputs, it makes sense that non verbals play a bigger role in the commmunication of emotion than tone or words. (But you'll know it is possible to convey emotion through words alone.)

    However, I don't know that this relates to the generation of emotion. As an example, i'd argue that the six words, apparently penned by Hemingway, "For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn" are likely to generate an emotion, without the need of images or visuals.

    Anyone who belongs to a discussion forum for a hobby of theirs will probably know the heat of emotion that can get generated by disagreements online.

    And seeing my daughters glued to Facebook every night  - it is clear that emotions are being generated.

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