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The psychology of SMS: Why do we still love to text?

  • 92% of Smartphone users still text despite access to IM and social networking messaging services
  • 18-25 year olds send more text – on average 133 text messages per week – almost double any other age group. Texting helps development – young adults used to talk on the phone now they text more
  • Men communicate via text more than women, but send shorter messages indicating they see it as a ‘functional’ way to correspond
  • Women are more likely to send long messages and say I love you via text, showing signs of ‘wanting to deepen relationships’
  • Over half of all respondents said they still need text or would be lost without it (69%)

Reading, 18th, July 2012: Acision, the global leader in mobile messaging, today launched the findings of its ‘Psychology of SMS’ research, which examines the behaviours behind text message usage. The study, which was evaluated by leading psychologist Graham Jones, questioned 2,000 respondents in the UK and US this year and provides a comprehensive observation of text messaging habits across different age groups and genders and shows why we still love to text.

In terms of gender differences, the study found that men text a larger number of contacts than women, sending text messages to an average of 17 people regularly, compared to women who habitually text the same 13 people. Men most likely find texting a functional, easy way to communicate without getting into a conversation, so view it as a convenient way to get straight to a point and avoid lengthy phone calls. Women on the other hand, are more likely to send longer text messages (41%) or SMSs that say ‘I love you’ (54%), probably using it to deepen relationships. In the workplace for example, men are three times more likely to text a work colleague than women, however, as many as 15% of mobile users in the UK have called in sick via text message – again using text to avoid a conversation. 

The research also uncovered differences in messaging habits across the age groups. Just 19% of young people communicate using services such as Skype and Twitter on their mobile, compared to 94% of 18-35 year olds who send SMS. The 18-25 year old bracket sends an average of 19 text messages per day, or 133 messages a week, more than double any other age group.  Over 55 year olds mostly send text messages to reach family (55%), while only 19% of under 25s text their family with 45% of young people preferring to send messages to friends. A key reason for sending an SMS rather than an instant message was reliability of SMS with 46% stating that SMS is more reliable than other messaging services.  In addition, SMS is preferred over other messaging services because of the immediacy - speed of delivery – (40%) and reach (40%).

The study was evaluated by psychologist and expert in internet-enabled communication Graham Jones, who commented: “The fact that men communicate with more people doesn’t mean that they are more social – men tend to be more practical sending short messages, compared to women who may text less people, but use text messages to deepen relationships. Age also plays a part in how people send text messages – older people tend to find typing with thumbs comes less naturally, which could lead to texting being less common. As mobile and text is a technology that young people have grown up with, they will naturally send more text messages. While teens thirty years ago may have phoned their friends as part of growing up and social development, nowadays they send text messages. The social reasons haven’t changed, but the preferred communication method has.

“People today are also compartmentalising their messages as they all have a specific purpose. Email is being used much less for personal communication and much more for business, whereas social networks tend to remain a medium to message friends and peers – sometimes on a one too many basis. Text messaging remains a functional communication tool, but still with a personal aspect, which could explain its longevity. You can say things in text you wouldn’t necessarily say on another communication tool. Although there has been an influx in new broadband-based messaging services, which people are certainly experimenting with, people are differentiating services according to their need and using them as complimentary services as opposed to stopping usage of one or another messaging service.”

Jones concluded: “The findings of this study show that text messaging remains popular, and I believe this comes down to trust and reliability. If a user sends a message via a social network, it may feel less immediate, and there are more technological hurdles which could hinder the delivery. Texting however often elicits an immediate response. Indeed, text messaging could become even more popular as it evolves and is used by more enterprises to reach consumers.  Additionally, the introduction of a plethora of new messaging services may mean that people may get confused and fall back on the reliable SMS. Running in the back of the human mind is the need to do everything with the least possible effort, and we instinctively search for the easiest way to communicate. This is why we rely on and still love text messaging.”

Jorgen Nilsson, CEO of Acision states: “With 92% of Smartphone users still relying on text, in a world rife with new messaging services, these findings highlight the stability of SMS in people’s lives – to say I love you and send our thoughts in a reliable, immediate and personal manner. The practical uses for SMS are boundless, hence why after 20 years SMS is still as popular as ever. There is something incredibly powerful about SMS when 69% of users claim that they need it or couldn’t live without it. While it may evolve to incorporate new features and provide new services, people are clearly attached to text messaging, due to its ease of use and the fact that it can reach anybody, on any phone.  People tend to check their text message instantly, which doesn’t necessarily happen with other services.”

Nilsson concluded: “The research comes at a time when more and more people are turning to the broadband enabled services for communication, but highlights the reasons why people still rely on and love SMS. We are at the stage in the messaging market where many end users and businesses are trying different messaging platforms.  In fact, text messaging is now being integrated into many applications to enable functionality such as notifications, which adds a new dimension to communication to users.   However, as messaging technology  continues to evolve there is still no single contender to SMS – we are firm in our beliefs that text messaging will continue to be the most trusted, most popular platform around the world for a long time to come.”


The research was carried out in 2012 by Vanson Bourne, a specialist research-led consultancy, which carries out user research within a technology context. The research was conducted with a sample of 1,000 adults in the UK and 1,000 adults in the US.

Graham Jones, a psychologist who specialises in technology and communication analysed the results of the research. Graham Jones is a qualified psychologist and a member of the British Psychological Society and the Society of Authors.