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Emoticons are a key expressive feature of digital text-based communication that is found across cultures. However, there are no universal symbols to express joy or sadness. In the Western world, smileys’ primary expressive element is the mouth represented by an open bracket in the happy face 🙂 and by a closed bracket in the sad face :-(. In Asia, the eyes are the central element to express happiness ^.^ or sadness ;_;. This difference in the choice of symbols mirrors behavioural differences in the way we express our emotions and read emotions in others. In Western cultures, facial muscles, and the mouth more particularly, are the main vehicles of emotional expression, whereas in Asian cultures, it is the eyes that primarily carry the expression of emotions. Emphasis on the eyes’ expressiveness is also a distinguishing characteristic of the Asian comics and cartoons style.

Rachel E. Jack et al. Facial expression of emotion are not culturally universal. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. CXIX, n 19 (08/06/2012).