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New Message: Texting Is Not an Addiction

Even college students can sometimes resist, suggesting that texting is more compulsive than addictive.

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By Valerie Tejeda

11/14/12

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We can all breathe again: texting is a compulsion, not an addiction, new research indicates. Many of us spend ever-larger chunks of the day sending texts, and this is particularly true of college students: “They’re digital natives, meaning they’re really used to using technology first and foremost for communication—not as a second option,” says Paul Atchley, professor of psychology at the University of Kansas. Atchley's study, published in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, investigated whether cell phone habits interfere with making rational decisions. “We used a technique from behavioral economics called ‘delayed discounting,’” he explains. “We essentially assessed if somebody is willing to wait to engage in that behavior for a reward.” His team tested KU students who'd been using cell phones for at least eight years. Various experiments—like offering students money to delay their texting—indicated that texting is more a compulsion than an addiction. “If they really were addicted to the idea of sending a text immediately, the monetary situation wouldn’t be that critical to them,” says Atchley. “You’d predict a sharp decrease if someone was truly addicted to texting. They’d say, ‘I need to text now and if you’re making me wait too long, there’s no point. So I’m going to give you all of your money back and just text right now.’” Researchers found that students' main concern while not texting was the possibility of missing a window of information. But it all depends on the status of the textee.“If you’re talking about texting an acquaintance back, people are willing to wait almost indefinitely to get that monetary reward,” says Atchley. “But if it’s someone closer to them, that changes. People were willing to give us $25 back, to have the opportunity to text their girlfriend or boyfriend back within 20 minutes.”

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