Emoticons, graphic symbols that use punctuation marks and letters to represent facial expressions, help provide context to a person's texts and clarify a message that could otherwise possibly be misconstrued.
Researchers at Rice University in Houston used smartphone data from men and women gathered for six months and analyzed 124,000 text messages.
The study found 100 percent of the participants used emoticons but did not use them very often, with only 4 percent of all their sent text messages containing one or more emoticons.
"Texting does not appear to require as much socio-emotional context as other means of nonverbal communications," psychology Professor Philip Kortum said. "It could be due to texting's simplicity and briefer communication, which removes some of the pressures that are inherent in other types of non-face-to-face communication, like email or blogs."
While previous research has found women are more emotionally expressive in non-verbal communication, the new study found that although women may use emoticons more than men the men used a larger variety of emoticons to express themselves, a Rice release reported Thursday.
Seventy-four different emoticons were seen in the study, but the top three emoticons -- happy, sad and very happy -- made up 70 percent of the total emoticons sent by the participants, researchers said.