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On the naughty step - Conduct that deserves a ticking off

This week: emoticons

Developing your vocabulary by reading great works of literature can be so tiring. And constructing sentences that evoke the complex subtleties of human emotions is such a drag.

But all this agonising over language may now be a thing of the past. Soon, our creative writing exploits may boil down to nothing more than a jumble of so-called "emoticons". To the dismay of English teachers, researchers have revealed that the human brain now reacts to keyboard-generated symbols such as :-) or ;-(in the same way as it does to the human face.

Using "advanced brain-scanning techniques", Dr Owen Churches, a psychologist at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, determined that our brains have learned to decode the shortcuts, prompting a reaction similar to the neural response to real facial expressions.

Dr Churches described the findings as "amazing". But while many a teacher would praise economy in their students' writing, this revelation seems just a step too far.

The news is certain to provide yet another excuse for students not to consult their thesauruses and dictionaries in pursuit of a well-rounded sentence. So, emoticons, you're fine for a bit of fun in chat rooms and the Twittersphere, but do not creep into the pages of Class 4B's exercise books. Get thee to the naughty step :-Z (angry face).

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