The little chime or buzz of an incoming text is almost impossible to ignore. Is it your friend with the killer one-liners? A kiss emoji from your partner? A colleague commending you on your performance? The possibilities are endlessly enticing.
Like bees to pollen, humans are suckers for social information. “We’re hypersocial animals,” says Amy Hasinoff, PhD, a professor of new media at the University of Colorado Denver and author of Sexting Panic. “If you text a lot, you’re using the available tools to connect with other people. That’s a good thing.”
But texting also has a dark side. Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly of our insatiable text-messaging habits.
Bad: Texting makes lying easy.
Take a selfie of your nose, Pinocchio. Your texting habit makes you prone to fibbing. Research published in Computers and Human Behavior found that 77% of people texted white lies on a weekly basis—especially when it came to expressing feelings. In a separate Journal of Business Ethics study, researchers set up a series of stock transactions and tracked communication between brokers and buyers. When the brokers texted information, they were 95% more likely to lie than when they talked to buyers on a video chat. If someone can see your face, that creates discomfort and reduces the likelihood of dishonesty, the researchers say.
Good: Texting can help you lose weight.
Sending text messages about your fitness achievements—”I walked 10,000 steps yesterday” or “I had two servings of fruit with breakfast”—and receiving daily text reminders to avoid unhealthy behaviors can help you hit your weight loss goals, according to Duke University researchers. Their study found that women who sent and received these sorts of texts for 6 months lost an average of 4 pounds, while women who didn’t fitness-text gained 3 pounds. (For motivation on your own weight loss journey, work out alongside celebrity trainer Michelle Lovitt with the Ultimate Flat Belly DVD.)
Bad: It’s a pain in the neck.
Compared to holding your head up, you put roughly five times more pressure on your upper spine when your head is bent forward to read or compose a text, shows research from New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine. That pressure can lead to spinal injuries and posture issues, the paper’s author explains. If you can, look at your phone by raising it to eye level or by lowering your eyes, rather than tilting your whole head down. You can relax a stiff neck with this 1-minute massage technique.
Good: Your sex life heats up.
Teen “sexting” makes the news, but most erotic messages are between consenting adults. For couples in committed relationships, sending sexual messages is a fun way to flirt. It can be especially powerful for those who may feel shy or inhibited when discussing sex face-to-face, Hasinoff says. “Women who have trouble expressing what they want in a relationship often find it easier to type it out and hit send,” she says. “When you don’t have someone in front of you, gender roles slip away and you feel disinhibited about expressing what you really desire.”
Good & Bad: Your relationship blooms… or wilts.
Apart from spicing things up, texting your partner winks, hearts, and loving messages can enhance feelings of affection, according to research published in the Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy. But when it comes to more complicated topics, texting spells trouble. Women who messaged apologies, tried to work out differences, or used texting to discuss important decisions reported lower relationship satisfaction, the research shows. The study authors theorize that the demands and nuances of a committed relationship require in-person exchanges to ensure each person picks up on emotional cues and subtleties.
Bad: Texting puts you in harms way.
A study published in Gait and Posture found that people who walked and texted accidentally weaved left and right 61% more than when walking without texting. The walking texters also reduced their speed by one-third and sometimes walked right past their destination. (Kind of scary when cruising toward a busy intersection.) A pile of studies suggests smartphone-and-walking-related ER visits are skyrocketing.
Good: Texting helps you take care of yourself.
In a recent study published in the journal Circulation, heart disease patients who received daily text reminders about their medicines were 17% more likely to take their drugs and to use the correct dosage. A similar study in the British Journal of Cancer found that women were 28% more likely to attend breast cancer screening appointments if they received text reminders.
Good: Texting lifts the clouds.
A simple, encouraging text message can lift your spirits. Among women suffering postpartum depression, automated support texts helped alleviate the blues, finds research from the Saint Louis University School of Medicine. Another study in the journal Personal and Ubiquitous Computing found that people suffering from depression, bipolar disorder, or addiction benefited from texts exchanged with a therapist.