Texting and using social media can result in “cognitive and moral shallowness”, studies have found.
Research shows people who frequently text or use social media were less likely to engage in “reflective thought” and “placed less importance on moral life goals”.
Tech writer Nicholas G Carr, in his Pulitzer nominated book The Shallows, discussed the possibility that the internet is changing “the way we think, read and remember”.
Specifically, Carr speculated that the internet was causing a decline in reflective thought. The reason for this is largely the fast-paced nature of internet communication, which usually involves short texts, tweets, comments and messages that don’t take long to process.
The ‘shallowness hypothesis’ predicts that “always-connected internet access, always-on portable entertainment media, and always-in-touch electronic social media have led to a dramatic decline in ordinary daily reflective thought”.
The idea is that as we get more used to short and fast communication, we also get used to similarly short and fast thinking. This will cause a decline in reflective thought, which contributes to a decline in importance placed on morality and an increase in importance placed on hedonism and image.
A 2013 study from the University of Wisconsin found that, of the 2,314 students they tested, the ones that texted more frequently also had “traits, goals and attitudes that were characteristic of individuals with low interest and engagement in reflective thought”.
Participants who texted more were less likely to give a positive response to statements like “I want to live an ethical, principled life” and “I want to live my life with genuine integrity”.
A recent study sought to further test the hypothesis that texting and social media is causing moral and/or cognitive decline.
This assessed participant’s texting and social media habits and measured how reflective they were, as well as analysing their attitudes towards certain moral or hedonistic life goals.
The study found that “texting frequency was negatively associated with life goals in the morality domain” and positively correlated with the “image and hedonism goal domains”.
In other words, the more participants texted, the less likely they were to place importance on moral life goals and more likely to view hedonistic and image-based goals as important.
The study also found that people who used more social media were less likely to be reflective than people who used it less.