Newswise — Who is more jealous over Facebook messaging: men or women? The answer is written all over one's smiley face.

Research by Dr. Denise Friedman, associate professor and chair of psychology and her Roanoke College students finds a gender difference in Facebook jealousy when it comes to emoticon usage. They are among the first to examine the impact of emoticons on social media jealousy.

“Men were more jealous when emoticons—specifically winking ones—were included in messages to their significant other,” says Friedman, “And women were more jealous when there were no emoticons included.”

And the gender differences don’t end there.

Men and women also reacted in different ways depending on how the questions were asked. Women report more Facebook jealousy in general, especially when surveyed, but men report equally or more jealousy when allowed to freely respond to a scenario in their own words.

The study, published last month in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, designed three experiments examining the relationship between gender, jealousy, and emoticon usage. In each, the researchers asked participants, who were made of up of undergraduate students, to imagine that they were in a committed relationship while borrowing their significant other’s laptop to check email. The significant other’s Facebook page happened to be open with a message from a user of the opposite sex saying, “What are you up to later?” The participants were randomly assigned a message either with an emoticon or without one and were asked to respond to the scenario.

Because women tend to use Facebook more than men, they may take interactions more seriously, explaining why women in the study reported higher Facebook jealousy. The different reactions to emoticon usage, though, might be due to the difference between how men and women perceive infidelity.

“Women react more strongly to signs of emotional infidelity, while men react more strongly to signs of sexual infidelity,” says Friedman. “Because men tend to use winking emoticons to flirt, and women interpret these as flirting as well, men may be reacting to them as signs that their partner is sexually unfaithful. This was likely true in the described scenario which described private messaging between their significant other and an unknown member of the opposite sex.”

One significant real-life implication of the study has to do with men and women’s differing reactions to perceived infidelity.

“It seems that emotional infidelity online makes women seek social support,” says Friedman, “but sexual infidelity online evokes an aggressive reaction in men. That aggressive reaction to perceived sexual infidelity may have real life implications to consider. For example, romantic jealousy has been associated with spousal abuse and even the murder of one’s wife.”

With young adults spending a considerable amount of time on social networking sites, thinking about how online interactions influence relationships is increasingly important.

“Developing intimate relationships is considered an important developmental milestone for young adults,” says Friedman. “Examining how these online interactions affect their relationships with romantic partners and even peers is necessary because they are such heavy users of social media."

The paper, “Examining How Gender and Emoticons Influence Facebook Jealousy,” was co-authored by Michael Hudson, Sylis Nicolas, Molly Howser, Kristen Lipsett, Ian Robinson, Laura Pope and Abigail Hobby.

Journal Link: Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking (February 2015)