University research shows texting is compulsion for young adults

Kaitlyn Hilgers said she’s addicted to texting.

“At certain points, I feel like I need to text someone,” said Hilgers, a junior from San Diego. “It’s not a want. It’s a need to text anybody and no one in particular.”

Hilgers said she sends about 75 texts a day, but her sense of addiction may not be typical of most college students.

Paul Atchley, a psychology professor, recently completed a study to determine whether texting was addictive to college students. Atchley, who has done several other studies on texting, found that young adults are able to think about it rationally, and it is more of a compulsion than an addiction.

“People feel the need to text back quickly. They receive a text, but they can withhold responding to that text if they really need to do so,” Atchley said. “It was a surprise, honestly. I thought we’d find more evidence of addiction.”

Atchley, with the help of Amelia Warden, a senior from Lawrence, used behavioral decision-making techniques with about 100 University students to come up with the findings. The duo assessed if students were willing to wait to text to gain a monetary reward.

“What we found is, people are willing to wait, but they aren’t willing to wait that long,” Atchley said. “I think this is because responding to a text doesn’t make sense if too much time goes by. If you asked me a question and it takes me a day to get the answer to you, there’s probably no purpose to me responding at that point. So, young adults feel like they need to respond quickly for it to be relevant.”

Warden, who assisted in conducting research, writing the program and analyzing the data, said that she personally does not feel compelled to text. Warden got involved with the two-year study partly because she views texting as bothersome.

“I feel like it takes away an innate personal interaction you can have with somebody,” Warden said. “Over the years, I’ve felt social pressure to respond to texts from people.”

She said her friends thought she was bad at texting because doesn’t text often and doesn’t respond quickly.

Atchley said that because people are able to make rational decisions about texting, he thinks it is possible to change people’s behaviors regarding texting and driving with educational messages.

“If it was truly an addiction, it would be far more difficult,” he said. “I think that what we found so far is that young adults are largely aware of how risky it is to text and drive.”

This is the case with Hilgers, who said she does not text while driving because it is unsafe. Instead, she asks a passenger to text for her.

The study was funded by the KU Transportation Research Institute, and was published in the current issue of the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition.

Atchley, who has studied driving for more than 25 years, said he would continue to conduct research on the topic.

“There is no worse example of how a distraction can kill you than texting and driving,” he said.

  • Updated Nov. 20, 2012 at 12:27 am
  • Edited by Luke Ranker
  • ErikWood

    I agree. And I
    think we live in a culture where business people need to ‘hit the ball
    over the net’. Teens consider it rude not to reply immediately to
    texts. Home schedules would grind to a halt without immediate
    communication. We are conditioned to pursue this level of efficiency
    but we are all supposed cease this behavior once we sit in our
    respective 5,000 pound pieces of steel and glass. Creating a
    sustainably safer driver may start with public awareness via legislation
    but legislation alone cannot win this battle.

    read that more than 3/4 of teens text daily – many text more 4000 times
    a month. New college students no longer have email addresses! They
    use texting and Facebook – even with their professors. Tweens (ages 9 -12) send texts to each other from their bikes.

    decided to do something about distracted driving after my three year
    old daughter was nearly run down right in front of me by a texting
    driver. Instead of a shackle that locks down phones and alienates the
    user, I built a texting asset called OTTER that is a simple and
    intuitive GPS based, texting auto reply app for smartphones. While
    driving, OTTER silences those distracting call ringtones and chimes
    unless a bluetooth is enabled. The texting auto reply allows anyone to
    schedule a ‘texting blackout period’ in any situation like a meeting or a
    lecture without feeling disconnected. This software is a social
    messaging tool for the end user that also empowers this same individual
    to be a sustainably safer driver.