Mind & Body

Want to Send a Supportive Text? Science Says You Should Play It Cool

Imagine your significant other is just about to go in for a job interview at a prestigious company. You know they're super nervous, and you want to text them to let them know you're thinking of them. What do you say? According to recent research, texting "good luck!!!" or "u got this <3" or even "don't worry" is the absolute wrong way to go. The right way is a lot more subtle than that.

New Study, Who Dis

For a study recently published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, Emily Hooker, Belinda Campos, and Sarah Pressman from the University of California, Irvine recruited 75 heterosexual couples and separated them in different rooms. They fitted the female participants with a blood-pressure cuff to measure their heart rate and blood pressure, then told them to keep their phones nearby so they could receive text messages from the researchers as part of the study. Next, the women were told that they'd have to prepare to give a three-minute speech and perform some mental math problems, all on camera. They got four minutes to prepare, and then lights, camera, action! The pressure was on.

Before they were informed of their task and while they were preparing, the female participants got a text message from their partner. Unbeknownst to them, the text was scripted and fell into one of two categories: supportive messages like "Don't worry. It's just a psych study. You'll be fine :)" or mundane, irrelevant messages like "It's cold in here." All the while, researchers measured the women's heart rate and blood pressure to see how stressed they were.

Baby, I Got Your Number

Surprisingly, it wasn't the supportive text messages that did the most good. The lowest systolic blood pressure in the study went to those participants who received mundane text messages — they were more relaxed than the ones who got supportive messages and the ones who got no text messages at all. That's despite the fact that those who got supportive text messages reported feeling more supported, loved, and cared for than the other two groups.

The researchers suspect this might be because a text message that shows support inadvertently reminds the person that they're about to do something stressful, that they're being judged, or just that they need support (and therefore might not be all that capable). Plus, when you get a supportive text, there's some obligation to respond — and that alone could have added some stress to the situation.

It's worth noting that this study only looked at the effects on women and was performed in a lab setting — it's possible that something different would happen in the real world with different people and multiple texts coming in before that big interview. But it's worth considering how helpful your text messages really are when it comes to easing the stress of a high-anxiety situation. Just letting someone know you're thinking of them can go a long way. Don't know what to say? Baby hippo pics never hurt anyone.

For more tips on how to make your relationship stronger, check out the ridiculously popular book "The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts" by Gary Chapman. It was a #1 New York Times Bestseller for eight straight years, after all. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

When In-Person Conversation Is Better Than Texting

Written by Ashley Hamer July 2, 2018

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