How much would you give up to be able to text right now?
That’s one of the questions KU psychology professor Paul Atchley asked in his study on texting and college students. Atchley’s study used fake monetary rewards to students based on their text usage. Students who waited to answer texts received larger rewards than texting immediately. However, Atchley found that in some instances, the students simply couldn’t wait.
“If I have someone try and put off texting, they may only be able to put that decision off for 25 minutes,” Atchley says. “So those rewards need to come in quickly. If they aren’t quick, the information loses value and there’s just no point in texting back."
The study was funded by the Transportation Research Institute, part of the University of Kansas, to try and understand how to improve safety. Texting and driving is a big safety concern, and Atchley wanted to determine if students were capable of leaving their phones in their pockets while driving.
“If people were addicted to these devices, truly addicted, we would have a much more difficult time, from a safety standpoint, convincing them not to use the devices,” Atchley says.
But what Atchley found was that people weren’t addicted to their cellular devices. In fact, they were making very logical choices about when to text and when not to. For instance, students were able to put off texting acquaintances but not significant others. This means, according to Atchley, that the students weren't addictive, but rather compulsory.
This discovery is important for Atchley because he says this proves that young adults and teens can be reached in an effective way. The trick is finding the right message.
“What I tell people is that texting and driving is about six times as bad as driving drunk,” Atchley says. “If you’re texting someone while they are driving, you’re the bartender in the back of the seat making them take shots of tequila while they’re driving.”