Text Messaging Can Increase Impulsivity and Inattention in Adolescents

September 28, 2009 by Dr.Yannick Pauli

Text messaging not only distracts students and frustrates teachers who try to keep their attention. According to a new study, text messaging encourages laziness, impulsivity, and carelessness in adolescents.

Australian epidemiologist Dr. Michael Abramson discovered that text messaging can rewire young people’s brains and train them to become careless. One of the main culprits is a feature called predictive text messaging, where the phone’s software guesses the word the user wants to type and completes it with a keystrokes. It’s fast and efficient, but horribly inaccurate. Experts believe that a developing child’s brain can be vulnerable to this sort of carelessness with frequent use.

In a pioneering study, Dr. Abramson and his colleagues from Monash University in Melbourne examined the cellphone use of 317 non-ADHD adolescents aged 11 to 14. 25% made more than 15 calls a week, and another 25% sent over 20 text message weekly. This data was then compared these to their scores in a battery of computer tests. He observed that students who used text mobile phones accomplished the tests faster, but their answers were considerably inaccurate.

The findings of this study seem to support the observations of cognitive scientist Laura-Ann Petitto from the University of Toronto. She points out that adolescents today are more vulnerable to behaviors promoted by cellphone use because their dependence on these gadgets occurs at a critical age of brain development. During the pre-adolescent and early teen years, the mind is still open, changing, and growing. When confronted by a technology that demands speediness and automatic behavior, it increases the likelihood of making careless errors and impulsive responses.

Dr. Petitto adds that text messaging in particular addresses a brain function that is central to human beings – language. Although text messaging is visual, it also makes use of language, and features like predictive messaging may stunt the language growth of adolescents. Researchers observe that heavy cellphone use makes young people likely to commit spelling errors in everyday words like “occurrence”. They are also more likely to be more tolerant of grammatical mistakes and incorporate these into their lexicon.

Fortunately, young minds are also very resilient. Dr. Pettito says that the bad habits instilled by text messaging can easily be reversed. But first, you need to pry the child away from the cellphone.