A new study published in Computers in Human Behavior shows how attitudes about communicating online—such as whether a person believes texting will lead to miscommunication, is easier than face-to-face communication or is an important part of maintaining relationships—can explain “text intensity,” or how dependent that person is on text messaging.
According to Dr. Andrew Ledbetter, there are five attitudes people can hold about online communication. People vary on how much they hold each of these five attitudes. Those variations can come from the way a person grew up communicating with their family or that person’s competence or skill at communicating with others.
- The attitude of self-disclosure refers to the anxiety people may have about sharing personal and private information online.
- The attitude of apprehension refers to feelings of dread or fear of communicating online.
- The attitude of miscommunication refers to beliefs about how common misunderstandings and conflict are when communicating online because online communication makes it difficult for people to understand one another.
- The attitude of social connection refers to beliefs about the ability of online communication to facilitate a person’s social life and how their social connections would suffer if they were no longer able to communicate online.
- The attitude of ease refers to how people feel about the convenience and efficiency of communicating online. This attitude also captures whether people enjoy communicating online.
In a new study conducted by myself, Dr. Megan Kenny Feister at California State University Channel Islands, and Dr. Stephanie Tikkanen at Ohio University, we found that all five online communication attitudes were associated with how much a person depends on and integrates text messaging into their lives. People who believed sharing information about themselves was easier through texting than talking face-to-face were, perhaps unsurprisingly, more dependent on texting. People who said they would feel “out of the loop” with friends if they were not able to text also reported higher text dependence. People who felt awkward communicating through texts were, on the other hand, less dependent on texting.
The research study also looked at the effect of “self-monitoring” on those attitudes and dependency on texting. Self-monitoring refers to a person’s ability to adapt to a variety of social situations. A person is a high self-monitor if they can recognize that they should behave differently at work, at a dinner party, and at home with their children. Not only would a high-self monitor recognize that they should act differently, but they would actually change their behaviors for each occasion. By itself, the trait of self-monitoring leads people to depend less on texting, likely because people who are socially aware recognize the limitations of texting (like the lack of nonverbal cues) and choose other ways to communicate that allow them more control over their self-image.
For people who believe that communicating online allows them to connect with others socially, self-monitoring had the opposite effect. In other words, people who are high self-monitors and strongly believe online communication allows them to connect to others tended to experience more dependence on texting. The same pattern was true for people who did not feel much apprehension about texting. For those people, self-monitoring was related to more text dependency.
This study shows that attitudes about online communication matter, and can be useful in understanding why some people are so dependent on texting as a form of communication.
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