Dr. Owen Churches of Flinders University in Australia has learned that we are now reacting to emoticons in the same way that we would to a human face. In a study published in the Social Neuroscience Journal, it was found that when presented with images of humans, random strings of characters, and emoticons, participants' occipitotemporal cortex had the same response with both human faces and emoticons. This brain development has only taken 32 years to occur, as the first documented use of emoticon was in 1982 by Professor Scott Fahlman, pictured above.
Though Fahlman has since spoken out about the ugliness of favored emoticon contemporaries, emojis, it appears that he is winning the hard-won battle for pushing people to "come up with a clever way to express emotions using standard keyboard characters." Now our brains are trained to understand emoticons as if they were our own living brethren. The only catch is that the emoticons must read left to right—when inverted or presented right to left, the study's participants registered no response. But if you're typing your emoticons like this (-:, then you probably have bigger worries than your occipitotemporal cortex could even handle.