British Columbia

In-person support better than texting for people under stress, study finds

As text messaging continues to grow, a study finds it's not the best option to help people in need of support — but it's better than nothing.

Author says research relevant as counselling services continue to embrace text messaging as option

UBC-O research found that in-person support works better than support by texting when a person is under stress. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

UBC Okanagan researchers say if you want to help a friend who's experiencing a stressful time, put down the phone and talk face-to-face.

That's the conclusion of psychology professor Susan Holtzman, who in a pair of experiments, put participants through the often-stressful experience of public speaking.

Before they addressed a crowd, participants were assigned to three groups: one group waited alone, another got encouragement via text message and another got in-person support, either from a trained research assistant or a friend.

"People felt significantly happier, relaxed and calm when they had that in-person support," she told On The Coast host Stephen Quinn.

"My suspicion is there's something really powerful about being with somebody, feeling or knowing you have that person's full attention, seeing a smiling face … and giving us support."

Holtzman's research found the text encouragement was better than nothing, but she wanted to do research to see if the growing prevalence of text message communication means anything for relationships and mental health.

Holtzman also says the research has relevance, as counselling services continue to embrace text messaging as an option.

"If you have somebody trained on the other end, it can be perceived as helpful," she said. "Maybe this is a first point of contact. … For some people who wouldn't normally call a crisis line, it at least gets them in the door and the person on the other end of the phone can maybe suggest they need another level of support."

Holtzman's research was published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

Listen to the full interview:

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast