If you’re crazy in love, a new study suggests expressing yourself via email is the way to go. There’s a new romantic gesture on the block that just might tug at your phone-hating heartstrings: According to a new study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, sending an email can be more effective in expressing how in love you are than leaving a voicemail (no matter how adorable).
Previous research (and lectures from the family) have suggested the opposite is true—that voicemail is a more intimate way to connect with someone, and that sending emails and texts are “cold” forms of communication that you can’t properly convey emotion with.
To understand how we respond emotionally to emails, co-authors Alan R. Dennis and Taylor M. Wells worked with 72 college-age participants and tracked their psychophysiological responses. Responses were tracked by placing skin sensors on the participants’ faces, which measured muscle movement linked to positive and negative emotion, and on their feet to measure arousal. Each participant was randomly assigned to do voicemail or email first, and produce a utilitarian or romantic message first.
They found that people who sent romantic emails were more emotionally aroused and used stronger and more thoughtful language than those who left voicemails.
“When writing romantic emails, senders consciously or subconsciously added more positive content to their messages, perhaps to compensate for the medium’s inability to convey vocal tone,” Dennis and Wells wrote in the paper.
“Email enables senders to modify the content as messages are composed to ensure they are crafted to the needs of the situation. Voicemail lacks this feature,” they continued. “A sender records a voicemail in a single take, and it can be sent or discarded and re-recorded, but not edited. Thus senders engage with email messages longer and may think about the task more deeply than when leaving voicemails. This extra processing may increase arousal.”
No difference was detected in how men and women reacted, and the team found that even with utilitarian messages, email aroused more psychophysiological responses than voicemail. The results counter media naturalness theory, the commonly held belief that suggests the further we get away from face-to-face interaction, the less effective communicating becomes.
“In this case, we found people adapted,” Dennis said in a statement. “Email’s been in the popular consciousness since the 1990s, and if you look at the new generation of millennials, and that’s who we studied, they’ve grown up with email and text messaging. So it may not be as unnatural a medium as we at first thought.
“There’s a lot of theory that says email and other text communications don’t really work very well,” Dennis added. “We should probably go back and reconsider a lot of the stereotypical assumptions that we hold about email and text messaging that may not hold true when we take a deeper look at how people react physiologically.”