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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Benefits of Text Messaging on Wellbeing for Young Adults and Early Adolescents

  • Author(s): Chiou, Joanna
  • Advisor(s): Reich, Stephanie M
  • et al.

Many young adults and adolescents use texting apps, where users can send messages to others directly and privately. Texting apps have great potential for enabling individuals to seek support anytime and anywhere, but whether they actually benefit wellbeing is not well known. In this three-study dissertation, I explore whether young adults use texting apps when experiencing intense emotional states, whether texting a friend can help early adolescents cope with stress, and whether the content of texts matter for improving wellbeing.

In Study 1, we examined the relationship between texting and experiencing intense emotional states (N = 104). For one week, young adults completed surveys on mood and stress hourly. An application on their phones logged when and for how long they accessed texting apps. Using multilevel modeling, we found that young adults spent more time on texting apps when experiencing high stress, low mood, or high mood. No associations were found, however, between texting and subsequent mood and stress.

In Study 2, we experimentally tested whether texting would help early adolescents cope with stress. Adolescents (N = 122) participated with a friend and both teens completed a stressful task. Afterwards, participants were randomly assigned to text their friend, watch a video (i.e., active control), or sit quietly (i.e., passive control). Texting did help adolescents cope; those in the texting condition reported higher moods at the end of the study than adolescents in both control conditions and lower stress levels than adolescents in the passive control condition.

In Study 3, we examined whether the content of texts mattered for improving wellbeing. Among the participants in the texting condition in Study 2, participants who shared about negative experiences and received supportive responses from their friends had higher mood and higher heart rate variability (i.e., lower stress) than participants who did not share about negative experiences. However, participants who shared about negative experiences but received unsupportive responses, did not experience greater wellbeing than those who did not share about negative experiences. My studies demonstrate that texting can be a valuable tool for improving wellbeing, but may depend on the responses that are received.

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