SRCD 2019 Biennial Conference
March 21-23, 2019
Title: Coping with Stress through Texting
Session: Be-Tween Devices: Connecting Pre- and Early- Adolescents’ Mobile Device Use and Wellbeing
Authors: Joanna C. Yau, Stephanie Reich
Abstract: Texting, which is used by many American youth (Lenhart, 2015) may help buffer against the negative effects of stressful events. While studies indicate that people prefer to seek support in-person (Holtzman et al., 2017), the person they want to share with may not always be physically present. As such, teens may use texting apps, which allow for private and direct communication, to share about stressful events and receive advice and encouragement immediately after they occur. Using an experimental design, we explored whether texting a friend can reduce stress and improve mood after a stressful situation for early adolescents. This is an understudied area, as much of the media research using experimental designs has used college-aged samples.
Eighty-two tweens (6th-9th grade) participated with a same-gender friend (M= 12.44 years old; 54% female). Participants were directed to separate rooms where they put on a fitness tracker that monitors heart rate variability (HRV). Baseline measures of HRV were taken while participants watched a nature video clip and completed a demographic survey. Participants then reported their current mood—from -3 (negative) to 3 (positive)— and stress level—from 0 (low) to 6 (high) at time 1. Next, participants engage in a modified version of the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST; Kirschbaum, Pirke, & Hellhammer, 1993), which elicits stress by requiring participants to give a speech and count backwards in intervals. Following the TSST, participants again completed self-report measures of mood and stress (time 2). Dyads were then randomly assigned to text their friend, watch a video on the phone alone, or sit alone. After five minutes, participants reported their mood and stress (time 3). HRV was collected throughout. Participants completed a survey indicating the quality of the relationship with their dyad partner.
Interestingly, content analyses of the participants’ texts found that nearly all participants (90%) discussed the experiment with their friend. However, half of the boys also discussed topics unrelated the experiment (see Table 2 for excerpts). Although the majority of participants (79%) shared negative feelings related to the stress tasks; this was more likely to occur if they described their partner as supportive (OR=11.15, p < .01). For girls, the use of emojis was associated with a greater reduction in self-reported stress (β=.73, p < .01).
Our study examined whether texting can reduce stress and improve mood for tweens. Our findings suggest that texting a friend can help tweens cope with stressful and challenging situations and the content of the text might matter. Sharing negative feelings or simply sending, emojis may be important ways to harness social support and improve wellbeing.