Text messages are short, offering us very little information to work with. If a text doesn’t say, “I’m angry,” don’t assume that the texter is angry. We are better off reading a text with the assumption that the texter has good intentions. Otherwise, we may end up in a lot of unnecessary arguments.
People just do not see emotions in the same way. We have unconscious biases that lead us to draw different conclusions based on the same information. When it comes to detecting emotion in texts, try to remember that our unconscious biases affect our interpretations, and so the emotions we detect may be reflective of things about us as much as they are reflective of the information in the text.
One approach to detecting emotions when they appear to be mixed is to use the “bag-of-words” method. This just means that we look at each word separately. By looking at how positive and negative each word is, we may be able to figure out the predominant emotion the texter is trying to express.
With text messages, we are pretty much guaranteed to be missing information. We can’t help but try to fill in the gaps with the information we do have, and so we start thinking about how we would feel in the situation the texter is describing. Always ask yourself: Are you drawing conclusions based on emotional information provided by the other person, or making assumptions based solely on how you would feel in the same situation?
Explore your own emotional theory, everyone has one. For example, research also shows that when we are feeling one negative emotion, we are much more likely to be feeling other negative emotions as well. This evidence has important implications for interpreting emotions in texts. If you’ve successfully detected that a person feels sad, you can be almost certain that they are also feeling anxious or angry.
If you’re still unclear about what emotion is in a text, seek out more information. The bottom line is that you should try to avoid guessing. You need to ask questions, be empathetic, and try to see the world through the other person’s point of view.