By Vivian P. Ta

Gone are the days of face-to-face only communication. Technology provides us with many fast and easy ways to connect with and communicate with others, such as through text messaging, instant messaging, and others. But can digitally-mediated communication compare to face-to-face communication?

Social and personality psychologists discussed how digitally-mediated interactions can impact our social relationships and well-being in the SPSP Annual Convention symposium titled “The Age of Digital Social Interactions: Can Technology Compete with In-Person Communication?”

Speakers included Susan Holtzman, Associate Professor of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Patricia Greenfield, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, Amori Mikami, Associate Professor of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Kaveri Subrahmanyam, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, California State University, Los Angeles.

How does text messaging, compared to face-to-face communication, play a role in social support in response to common stressors? It appears that text messaging does not increase positive emotions after experiencing common stressors as well as face-to-face communication. Although text messaging is one of the most popular forms of communication, overly relying on text messaging to seek support may have emotional costs over time.

Digitally-mediated communication may also hinder the development of social skills. For pre-teens, a high prevalence of digitally-mediated communication can worsen the development of recognizing and understanding the feelings of other people. A high prevalence of face-to-face social interaction, on the other hand, can improve this social skill for pre-teens.

Instant messaging was also found to be the least effective in facilitating the sense of bonding between college friends. Face-to-face interactions were the most effective, followed by video chat and audio chat (e.g., talking on the telephone), respectively.

However, the news isn’t all grim. Digitally-mediated communication does show to have some benefits. Positive online relationships are important for students to successfully transition to university. In addition, the quality of both digital and in-person communication predict same-day well-being, although the positive feelings from digitally-mediated communication tends to dissipate more quickly than in-person communication.

Although digitally-mediated communication is becoming increasingly common and allows for quick and simple communication, overall it does not offer the same benefits that come with face-to-face communication. So, the next time you’re thinking about catching up with your friends via text messaging, it may not be a bad idea to go see them instead. 

Vivian P. Ta, NSF LSAMP BD Fellow and PhD student, University of Texas at Arlington