The Psychology of Texting and How It’s Changing Communication As We Know It.

When we think of the practice of text messaging, we typically associate the advantages with convenience and the disadvantages with car accidents and social mayhem. Yes, the ills of the infamous “text” vary between how much they distract us from things that cause us harm and conversations that are happening right in front of us.

2013 was the year that texting caught my attention as one of life’s biggest annoyances. As a single man with various friends and opportunities for social activities, I found myself constantly competing with my friends for their attention, away from the dreaded smartphone.

Oh yes, and I was a perpetrator of this social  crime as well.

It got bad enough to the point where we had to play a ridiculous game to keep our hands off of our phones. We would stack the phones in the middle of the table and provide an incentive for whoever could keep their hands off of their phone the longest. It was games like these that made me realize that we have a problem.

Everlasting Conversations

Being distracted may not be a new phenomenon, but using the tool of instant communication to be constantly warped from reality is, so I set out to  discover what the true implications are for everlasting conversation.

I turned to how texting damages relationships. Unlike billions of other human beings, texting has always been a central part of dating for my generation. We’ve used it to pioneer a new type of conversation that never ends, and the psychology behind what comes from everlasting conversation is troubling.

Most human beings dislike forced obligation, for the same reason we don’t like receiving a gift from a friend at Christmas because it means we have to get them a gift that is at least its equal. With texting, the “gift” is a message that, if left unanswered, results in awkward feelings between you and the sender.

People are trading face to face communication with instant gratification every single day, and the consequences are only starting to become apparent.

TextingWe’re obligated into continuing a conversation with a person because no one wants to end it. The problem here is that we are also prone to getting sick of people quite quickly. Eventually, the chemistry we have the person we are communicating with fades out. People are trading face to face communication with instant gratification every single day, and the consequences are only starting to become apparent.

It’s not hard for us to believe that countless car accidents are caused by texting. Most of you reading have either been distracted with texting while driving (and walking) or know people who do this. But have you ever wondered why we find it so crucial to respond to even the most insignificant text messages that are sent to us? Even when we know how dangerous it is?

Compulsion or Addiction?

I’ve wondered for a long time why we are so compelled to ping our phones as soon as we receive that beloved text message. Several years ago, I was in a college course sitting next to a girl around my age. Her phone was comfortably set right next to her notes, and I made a game out of how many times she picked it up to respond to a text message. In a 50 minute course, she picked up her phone 37 times to respond to a text. That’s more than one text every two minutes.

In a 50 minute course, she picked up her phone 37 times to respond to a text. That’s more than one text every two minutes.

We assume that this type of behavior is very willful and controlled, but it seems as if something is triggering our minds to sustain the feeling that we are constantly socializing.

Paul Atchley is a professor of psychology at the University of Kansas. He set out to identify whether or not texting is a compulsion or an addiction for young adults. His findings were varied, but he came to several eye-opening conclusions.


He framed his research around the idea that young people are compelled to text because it yields a psychological reward. It mirrors an addiction because most of them are unwilling to wait a long period of time to respond to whoever is texting them.

He found, however, that it is not a full-blown addiction because he introduced monetary incentives for those who were willing to wait for the reward, and most of the participants were agreeable to this. He called this delayed discounting.

Of course, there was still a sizable portion of the sample that opted out of the monetary reward in order to text at that moment. Atchley found that some were unwilling to miss the window of opportunity that lies within about 4 hours after receiving a text message. The participants said it was “pointless” for them to respond after that window.

Passive Aggression & Bullying

The research is mounting, and this article doesn’t have enough of your attention to cite all of the interesting implications that come with the psychology of texting. It’s still important to note, however, some key examples of how text messaging affects us mentally, either directly or indirectly.

The process is simple. As we are compelled to continue these endless conversations from dawn ’til dusk, we get better at texting faster. Unfortunately, that does not mean we avoid things like typos. Additionally, texting removes nonverbals from the equation, which means the understanding of the things you “say” through text rely heavily on what your rapid, gut reaction is to what’s been said…to you. Further, the removal of nonverbals means that we are more likely to say something we wouldn’t say face to face. We’re bolder when we text.

Texting is a fantastic outlet for being confrontational and non-confrontational at the same time, which is ideal for passive aggressive behavior.

All of these factors together lead to the likely influx of stress into our relationships with both friends and romantic partners. A lot of this stress can come in the form of restrained hostility, or passive aggression. In fact, texting is a fantastic outlet for being confrontational and non-confrontational at the same time, which is ideal for passive aggressive behavior.

And of course, there’s bullying, which can be passive or outright hostile. Texting can allow the spreading of gossip and rumors much faster than otherwise (especially as a result of “sexting”). Keep in mind that texting makes us bolder, which means we are more likely to exhibit aggression and criticism through the medium.

What’s Next?

The ideas and figures above are not presented as a case against texting as a whole. After all, we could also cite many of the benefits of the technology, such as keeping in touch with others and receiving help during an emergency. This is, however, a warning to how our minds are being directly shaped by this addictive type of conversation, and we have yet to see how this will fully develop as texting cements itself fully within society.

The best tip I can impart to you is moderation, and more importantly, how to sustain  that moderation. Like in the experiment above, reward yourself (or your child) for waiting to send text messages back. Get into the habit of politely ending conversations that have run their course so that you can start a new one later. And of course, be sure to turn your phone off once in a while.

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