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Mood Control: How Texting Affects Your Well-Being

Is happiness a swipe away? What you should know about being tied to your device.

In the modern world, people text in settings ranging from festivals to funerals. From the bedroom to the boardroom, texting has become a part of life, both personally and professionally. Social norms have evolved to accommodate the reality and ubiquity of mobile communication. But what about the individuals involved? How does reliance on digital communication impact the user?

Why Talk When You Can Text?

Many people view texting as easier than talking. Particularly busy people argue that if they only need to ask a question, why talk when you can text? Live conversations take time and effort, they rationalize, often drag on, and veer off course to different topics. Who has time for that? Texts are one and done. But is it that simple?

As you might imagine, problems arise when texting becomes a person´s primary (or sole) method of communication. But there are other problems as well—impacting users both mentally and physically.

An Age of Distraction

Thanks to electronic communication, we live in an age of distraction. Public safety tips include warnings about the dangers of walking while texting. This hazardous combination has been called out both legislatively, and administratively. Honolulu has criminalized texting and walking if you are crossing the street,[i] and one Utah university even created texting lanes for students to be able to walk while texting.[ii]

Research indicates, however, that over-reliance on texting and social media can compromise more than the safety of you and the bystanders around you. It can actually impact emotion, and cognition. So, as coordinated as you might be, if you think texting is a time-saver, it might be time to think again.

No Such Thing as Effective Multitasking

Research by Stoney Brooks (2015) discovered that personal use of social media during professional (versus personal) time decreases performance as well as happiness.[iii] Specifically, his results highlight the reality that as much as people believe they are capable of multitasking effectively while using a computer, social media use decreases their performance.

Brooks' results also linked social media use to “technostress,” defined as an inability to cope with modern technology, or more specifically, technology's negative impact on thoughts, attitudes, or behaviors. He found that heavy use of social media contributes to technostress, which decreases happiness.

No Diving: Technology Use in the Shallow End of the Pool

Research by Logan E. Annisette and Kathryn D. Lafreniere (2016) entitled, “Social Media, Texting, and Personality” tested the shallowing hypothesis, which holds that increased use of technology dramatically reduces daily reflective thought.[iv] Their research found that frequent use of technology such as texting or social media reduced reflective thought and decreased perceived importance of moral life goals.

Specifically, they examined social interaction through “ultra-brief” social media, such as tweets and texts, which according to the hypothesis, promotes rapid, shallow thought, linked with moral and cognitive shallowness. They found that frequent texting or ultra-brief social media use was associated with placing enhanced importance on “morally shallow” life goals such as hedonism and image.

Having concluded that frequent interaction through ultra-brief social media adversely impacts reflective thought and can compromise moral judgment, they note that these results could decrease academic performance and increase difficulty in forming social relationships—both of which are important aspects of the age group who use texting and social media the most.

Out of Touch and Out of Practice

In addition to the potential physical and cognitive impairments, what about the impact of digital communication on social skills? After all, people have to learn to interact in person. How else will they get through a job interview, much less a first date? And regarding whether there is an age group that is particularly out of practice, although we sometimes pick on young people, the truth is that everyone needs to develop effective social skills, both on and offline.

As adults who lived through the transition from talk-to-text have experienced, social skills can atrophy when they are no longer used. And for teens that begin the socialization process online, in-person social skills might not have a chance to fully develop in the first place.

Yet there is hope.

Reality Check

To maximize mental and emotional health, people do not need to swear off their devices. (Most of us would not survive). They just need to spend time in the real world. Texting and emailing can be useful, and can certainly save time in many instances. Yet as with so many other habits, moderation is key.

Cultivate and nurture existing relationships through creating sacred places that are device-free zones. Maybe you choose the dining room table, or the living room where you and your family gather to play a game or do a puzzle. Or here is a concept, maybe just talk. Recapture the chemistry of in-person sharing and laughter with friends and family, pleasing your loved ones, as well as yourself.




[iii]Stoney Brooks, ”Does personal social media usage affect efficiency and well-being?” Computers in Human Behavior 46, 2015, 26-37.

[iv]Logan E. Annisette and Kathryn D. Lafreniere, “Social Media, Texting, and Personality: A Test of the Shallowing Hypothesis.” Personality and Individual Differences115, 2016, 154–158.

More from Wendy L. Patrick, J.D., Ph.D.
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