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More texts means you're not so nice

U of W psych study probes shallowness

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If your thumbs are flying on hundreds of texts a day, chances are you may not be all that nice a person.

A University of Winnipeg study has found students who are heavy texters "place less importance on moral, aesthetic, and spiritual goals, and greater importance on wealth and image."

Text more than 100 times a day and you're 30 per cent less likely "to feel strongly that leading an ethical, principled life was important," say the data, in comparison to those who texted 50 times or less a day.

And even worse, "Higher texting frequency was also consistently associated with higher levels of ethnic prejudice," said the study.

Prof. Paul Trapnell and Prof. Lisa Sinclair, both psychology professors, conducted the study during the past three years among 2,300 students in introductory psychology.

U of W said the one-hour online psychology research survey included measures of texting frequency, personality traits, and life goals.

"The values and traits most closely associated with texting frequency are surprisingly consistent with Carr's conjecture that new information and social-media technologies may be displacing and discouraging reflective thought," Trapnell said.

"We still don't know the exact cause of these modest but consistent associations, but we think they warrant further study. We were surprised, however, that so little research has been done to directly test this important claim."

Trapnell said the main goal of the study was to test the so-called "shallowing hypothesis" described in the Nicholas Carr bestseller, The Shallows, and by some social neuroscientists -- that ultra-brief social media such as texting and Twitter encourages rapid, relatively shallow thought and consequently very frequent daily use of such media should be associated with cognitive and moral shallowness.

Trapnell and Sinclair also reported significant annual declines since 2006 in first-year students' mean levels of self-reported reflectiveness and openness to experience, but not in any other broad personality traits annually measured in their surveys.

About 30 per cent of students reported texting 200-plus times a day.

Twelve per cent reported texting 300-plus times per day.

Those who texted frequently also tended to be significantly less reflective than those who texted less often, the researchers learned.

More recently, Trapnell and Sinclair took texting into the lab. In their lab study, some students texted, some spoke on cellphones, and some did neither.

Then, all students rated how they felt about different social groups. Those who had been texting rated minority groups more negatively than the others did -- results they recently presented at a major conference in New Orleans.

Nevertheless, Trapnell and Sinclair said young adults today are still more tolerant and accepting of human diversity than any previous generation, but conclude the topic may warrant greater research attention.

 

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 14, 2013 0

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