People who text frequently are more shallow, hedonistic, and do not strive towards moral goals, a new study shows.
The study was the result of an undergraduate thesis project conducted by Logan Annisette. The results were published in the article “Social media, texting, and personality: A test of the shallowing hypothesis“, which appeared in the February edition of the journal Personality and Individual Differences.
Kathryn Lafreniere, coordinator of the psychology undergraduate honors thesis program, says Annisette found a strong correlation between frequent texting and image-related concerns. Frequent texters were seen to strive towards goals related to appearance and hedonism.
“Where goals related to morality—like living life with genuine integrity and leading an ethical and principled life—those were negatively related,” Dr. Lafreniere says. “People espousing those ideals texted and used social media less frequently.”
Texting, Image, and Hedonism
Annisette and Lafreniere asked undergraduate students to rank dozens of life goals according to their significance to the individual student. What they found was that students who engaged in regular texting and social media normally valued things to do with image and hedonism. For example, they wrote: “I want to achieve the look I’ve always been after” or “I want to have an exciting lifestyle.”
The texting participants were less concerned with goals that related to morality and did not appear to value or undertake self-reflection.
The researchers cautioned that texting and social media involvement could make it more difficult for students to have meaningful friendships and could also have a negative effect on student’s grades.
“Whether it becomes an issue that needs to be dealt with or not is a matter of debate. But it’s an issue that demands our concern and poses a need for additional research,” said Annisette.
Social Media and Shallow Thinking
Lafreniere voiced concern over the fact that many of the students were receiving news about current events through social media.
“If [social media] is the way people are getting all their information about current events, that’s kind of a recipe for shallow thinking about that event,” said Lafreniere.
She said that this could lead to a superficial understanding of the world around us.
“One wonders if people are looking at headlines without clicking on the article and looking at anything more nuanced. It could be setting up a cycle where people are taking shortcuts to deep thinking about important topics in the world.”
Annisette gained his inspiration for the study from the 2010 Pulitzer Prize-nominated book The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, a technology and culture critic. Carr proposed that short bursts of texting resulted in shallow thought and a decrease in the amount one engages in daily reflection.
In all, 149 students participated in the study. The students were asked to rank the importance of nearly 60 life goals. The breadth and subject matter of the questions ranged dramatically from “I want to have a really good sex life” to “I want to find a real purpose and meaning in life.”
Students were also presented with a “reflection questionnaire.” This questionnaire required them to agree or disagree with statements like “I love exploring my inner self” or “Contemplating myself isn’t my idea of fun.”
Anisette notes that “I don’t find (social media) inherently evil or dangerous or problematic, but I argue that it’s not the best use of our time.”
But Lafreniere believes that if you are texting continuously or always checking your social media accounts, you can probably afford to take a break.
“We want people to be more deeply reflective and take the time necessary to do that,” she said.
“People have to break that cycle of over-engagement with social media or texting,” she said. “If they’re always kind of looking at their phone they may be missing something, some deeper experiences that aren’t as shallow.”
Featured photo credit: Positive Moms via positivemomsmagazine.com
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