Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Does This Sentence Seem Friendly? Maybe Not Now

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Does This Sentence Seem Friendly? Maybe Not Now

Article excerpt

In most writing, ending a sentence with a period is just that - a way to finish a thought. But with text messages, where it's often difficult to determine a sender's intent, using a period at the end of a sentence can often seem less sincere, research from Binghamton University in New York has found.

In research published in November in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, the researchers recruited 126 undergraduate students to read a series of short exchanges that appears as text messages or handwritten notes.

After reading one version of experimental exchange, which each contained a statement followed by an invitation to the recipient ("Dave gave me his extra tickets. Wanna come?"), the students looked at two versions of a one-word affirmative response (such as "Okay, Sure, Yeah, or Yup"), one ending with a period and one that didn't.

The students' responses indicated that the sentences that ended with a period were rated as less sincere, says Celia Klin an associate professor of psychology at Binghamton, who led the research, in a statement. Despite the absence of context around the exchanges, she says, students were determining the meaning behind the messages based on the punctuation used by the sender.

"When speaking, people easily convey social and emotional information with eye gaze, facial expressions, tone of voice, pauses, and so on," Professor Klin said. "People obviously can't use these mechanisms when they are texting. Thus, it makes sense that texters rely on what they have available to them -- emoticons, deliberate misspellings that mimic speech sounds and, according to our data, punctuation."

In a world where people increasingly favor text message-based communication over phone calls, this "overanalyzing" of what might seem like simple exchanges can have a variety of impacts, comedy writer Sam Greenspan notes in a 2011 book. …

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