By Carlo Alcaraz
Special to The Communitarian
A recent study on the correlation between teenage texting and their performance in class is receiving widespread attention within the psychological community.
First published in the American Psychological Association’s journal, Psychology of Popular Media Culture, the study is co-authored by Dr. Kelly Landman, assistant professor of Business, Computing and Social Science at DCCC.
Amid the growing international attention towards her study, Dr. Landman continues to teach her classes this semester while participating in interviews with many national and international media outlets.
I recently had the chance to discuss this sudden leap into the spotlight with Landman, as well as the details of her latest studyandtheimplicationsitmayholdfor the future of media-based psychology.
What first interested you in the field of psychology?
Great question! When I was in high school I wanted to go into education, and I thought I would be a high school teacher. In my senior year, I took a psychology course and I fell in love, and I loved many aspects of it: the research, the science behind it, the clinical applications and therapy. I decided to major in psychology in my undergraduate studies, and then pursued clinical studies in particular.
So that was something you always really enjoyed?
Yes, and I never knew I had an interest in psych when I was in high school. It wasn’t something I ever knew anything about. So once I had a little bit of exposure, I just was hooked. I found out later down the road that I could also teach. That was my original goal, so it all meshed well when I realized I could teach about the topic that I loved the most. When I realized that this was my passion, I never looked back from that point on.
Tell us more about your research.
Absolutely. It’s a study of teens’ texting behaviors, and it looks specifically at not just the frequency with which teens text, but also the compulsive nature of their texting, so in addition to how many texts they’re sending and receiving in a day.
Even if their rate is low it focuses on how often they feel the need to check their phone, how often they daydream about the phone when it’s not with them and how much sleep they’re losing because they’re preoccupied with what’s happening on their phone.
This is the first study that looked at compulsive texting’s relation to frequency of texting, and then applied it to teen’s self- reported academic functioning.
What first inspired the study?
For my master’s thesis, I did a lot of work looking at teen’s social and aggressive behaviors over the Internet. At the time, we were looking at Facebook, but also what people put on their blogs – the biggest format of the time being MySpace.
As you know, that quickly became, not entirely obsolete, but we don’t use it as much. So when it was time to think about future research projects for my dissertation and beyond, we decided to look at what the current social media formats were and saw that numbers were backing teen’s texting more than they were doing anything else. Plus, on their mobile phone, they could access Facebook and all the other formats that we used to be interested in.
Because you say you focused on teens’ behavior online, how do you feel about current studies in that field? Is there enough? Or should there be more?
There is so much opportunity, and there’s a lot coming out from the last few years where there are so many gaps, and even [after] our study, there are countless more we want to do based on the results of ours.
So we’re just at the beginning of learning about this, and texting is something that, unlike some of our other social media formats, we can tell is not going to go away.
I think the potential is great for where researchers can go in this field, looking at motivation s for texting and the actual content of texts, because we didn’t examine that ourselves.
We’re presuming that the females are communicating about things like relationships, whereas the males are communicating about factual information like making plans and more basic content.
One thing I became interested in is if teens are texting because they have a fear of missing out and the whole “FOMO” idea. There are so many areas where we could go, and we just started scratching the surface of it, I believe.
So, you would say that there’s a new frontier of research?
Yes, absolutely, and there has been a lot in the last several years regarding texting and frequency, so that’s one area where there still can still learn a lot about. Prior to that, there was a lot on internet frequency, and a lot of the texting research is being based on the theories developed in internet research.
[However], this whole compulsive nature – we have a lot more we can do there. We’re not calling it addiction either, because we’re not looking at it clinically, we’re not talking about diagnosis, but it does seem to share some behaviors that are similar to a lot of our other addictive behaviors.
A lot of reports that are out there in the last week or two [regarding this study] draw this connection to compulsive gambling, which is a great idea, but some
of the headlines are saying we tied it to that and we didn’t. None of the research is causal, although there is definitely potential for looking at the similarities in future research.
Once the data had come in and this study was finalized, for you personally, what was the most significant thing you found?
The biggest take-home message is that boys and girls are texting at similar rates, but girls appear to be texting more compulsively even though the frequency is similar. Then, we looked at the relation to academic functioning.
When you look at compulsive texting, if girls report that they’re high in compulsive texting, they’re [also] self- reporting lower academic functioning than those who report that they’re low in compulsive texting.
For the boys, we don’t see the difference between those who say that they’re higher or lower. Their academic functioning seems to be similar and there seems to be no significant difference there.
We’re not saying in any way that the girls’ performance is lower than the boys; in fact, the girls still report that their [overall] academic performance is higher than the boys, though we’d need to look at actual records to know if they were telling the truth.
Did you find any motivations behind this? Or was it simply the raw data?
Well, those were our results. Then we were given the task to explain why this may be, and this is where the potential for future studies comes into play.
We need to go and look at the content of the messages, because there is a good chance the girls may be texting about things they’re preoccupied with and things they are emotional about, whereas the boys may not be so connected to or worried about the content of their texts.
Some of the other things we want to look at more [include] the role of divided attention and multitasking, and if it’s something in the way that girls are compulsive texting that’s pulling their attention away from academics, and that’s really the part that’s spurring this difference. But we don’t know. These were just some of our presumptions.
Hopefully, it can have a little impact in this field of research on texting, and if it sparks any additional questions or
somebody can base a study off what we found and look more causally at some of these things, then that would be wonderful.
Now that this study is out there and appears to be gaining attention, how does it feel to be in the spotlight?
It’s been an exciting week for sure. I’ve never had the experience of speaking to all these media outlets before, so that has been new to me. Some of the first people I head from were from England. Both The Sun and The Daily Mail on the very first day.
In terms of stretch though, I’ve also seen things pop up in different languages, so I’m not sure where they’re based out of. I was also told yesterday by one of my colleagues here that there was something out of India. The Times of India, I believe it was called.
But it’s been exciting to see how far-reaching this has been, and that it’s impacting people worldwide – everybody can relate across cultures. One other emotion I could say that I’ve experienced is some [pause] concern that the media sometimes handles the statistics.
I’ve never seen it firsthand, only talked about it in classes that I’m teaching. I constantly have my students go out and look at the way the media talks about statistics and we try to analyze it together and see, “Is that what this study really found?”
I’m now just beginning to see that there are sometimes headlines out there that are not at all [based on] what I found. However, the attention the media is giving it, I think, has been very exciting. I’m just happy for the field, because with all this attention, hopefully it sparks other people to continue research.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
I think the last thing I’d say is, first and foremost that this is a study designed to look at positive and negative aspects of texting, and the larger study looked at both. The article that was published highlights one worrisome area, and that is when you compulsively text and the correlation to academic functioning. [But] there is so much potential for good when it comes to texting as well, and we’re very aware of that. There also needs to be research in that area, such as how it connects people and nurtures relationships, and I look forward to seeing that as well.
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