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Can Too Much Texting Make Teens Shallow?

Study: Young People Who Text Frequently Focus on Wealth, Image; Less on Moral, Spiritual Goals

Too Much Texting: More Study Results

"Those who texted more than 100 a day were 30% less likely to feel strongly that leading an ethical, principled life was important to them," Trapnell tells WebMD. "This was in comparison to those who texted 50 or less a day."

Those who texted frequently also tended to be less reflective than those who texted less often.

The researchers cannot pinpoint a number at which the differences kick in. They found  ''a general linear trend." The higher the number of texts, the greater the effect.

They looked to see if being from a higher-income home might explain the effects of placing more importance on wealth. It did not, Trapnell says.

The study has limitations, he says. For instance, naturally reflective youth may just not be into texting. They are continuing the research.

Meanwhile, Trapnell has a suggestion for those with high texting frequency: "It might be a great idea if they spent more quiet time."

The study was partially funded by the federal Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Frequent Texting and Shallowness: Perspective

The new research ties in to similar research by Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, EdD, assistant professor of psychology, education, and neuroscience at the University of Southern California. She reviewed the new findings but was not involved in the study. 

In recent years, she says, scientists have focused on the brain's ''default'' mode. That refers to what the brain does when it is quiet and rested. When the brain is in this mode, she and other experts believe, it provides valuable time to reflect on life and situations. They think that downtime is important.

Distractions such as frequent texting can hamper it, she says.

"If you are habitually pulled into the outside world by distracting media, you may be systematically undermining opportunities to reflect about the moral, social, emotional, and longer-term implications of a situation," she says.

It is possible, she says, that those who text frequently are so distracted from this reflection that ''they get in the habit of thinking about things in a shallow way."

Her advice to parents of younger children who have not yet begun to text? "For healthy development, I think it is essential that we encourage our kids to have free time in which there are no distractions from TV, media, texting, you name it,'' she says.

This downtime allows kids that crucial time to reflect, she says.

These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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