Text Messages Are Changing The Way We Communicate

If you've ever stressed over the meaning of a friend's curt reply over text message, this will come as no surprise: research shows that it's really easy to misconstrue the emotional content of a message when it's in a text or email.

Full Stop

For a study published in Computers in Human Behavior in 2016, researchers asked participants to read a series of short message exchanges. Some of the messages were in text-message form and others were handwritten; likewise, some of the response messages ended in a period and some didn't. When the messages appeared as texts, participants rated the responses ending in a period as less sincere than those without periods. Interestingly, they didn't have this interpretation with hand-written messages.

And yet, the insincerity of a period can mean everything when it's placed at the end of a sarcastic comment. In a 2015 study, volunteers read two sets of messages: one without context ("I see the diet is going well") and one with ("Tanya had noticed that Jenny had put on a lot of weight. She texted her to say: 'I see the diet is going well'). The messages were followed by either a period, a wink emoticon, or an ellipsis ( ... ).

When volunteers read the messages in context, the final symbol didn't matter. But when they were out of context, people interpreted sarcastic praise like the example above as less sincere, and therefore more negative, when it was followed by a period. For sarcastic criticism, like "I see the diet is going badly," the insincerity of a period made the comment seem more positive. A wink emoticon, meanwhile, intensified the emotion: "I see the diet is going well ;)" stings worse, while "I see the diet is going badly ;)" is an even nicer compliment. But in the end, frank assertions were taken the most seriously of all. If you really want to get your point across, the study says, skip the sarcasm altogether.

You're Soooo Good At Conveying Emotion

The biggest problem with conveying emotion over text is that so few people realize there's a problem at all. A 2005 study found that recipients of emails couldn't identify the intended emotion behind them much better than chance, even though the senders believed most of their emotions would be correctly interpreted. When those same messages were transmitted through a voice recording, people's ability to correctly identify the intended emotion shot up to 73 percent.

Obviously, when you're trying to convey emotion, phone or face-to-face communication is best — because clearly, you have all the time in the world. (That's sarcasm, just to be clear.) But when you need to communicate via text or email, be as clear as humanly possible. Skip the passive language and use concrete emotional words like "I'm happy to say" or "I'm disappointed in your actions." When you interpret emotion in someone else's message, clarify: "When you wrote that, I took it to mean ... " And when you need to, use emoticons. They exist for a reason!

Periods Make Text Messages Seem Insincere

Why you should probably stop using punctuation in text altogether.

Written by Ashley Hamer August 11, 2016

Curiosity uses cookies to improve site performance, for analytics and for advertising. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.