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Research: Mindful Messaging

News Story

Dyson Professor Leora Trub, PhD, and Pace student Jonathan O’Hadi '16 teamed up to explore why we text compulsively, how we learn to feel our emotions before we hit send, and why some messages just leave us anxious and upset.

Ding-ding. Buzz, buzz.

Whatever the alert, you grab for your phone hunch-shouldered and head bent, face illuminated in digital glow just to tap out a message without so much as a second thought.

Ding-ding. Buzz, buzz.

“K.”

And then you’re left wondering—is that an angry ‘k’? That was short. Did I do something? How could one letter sound so rude?

“The challenges of finding authenticity in relationships are accentuated by ambiguous, disembodied, short, and asynchronous communication of texting,” says Pace Professor and Clinical Psychologist Leora Trub, PhD, of her work with adolescents and adults who frequently discuss their text exchanges in therapy. “Texting with parents, friends, and romantic partners often provoke feelings of intense anxiety or anger coupled with a compulsion to respond immediately.”

In her clinical practice, Trub encouraged her patients to pause after receiving or sending a text—to examine their own emotional landscape and their desire for authentic communication. In 2012, Trub, in conjunction with Inward, Inc., created Mindful Messaging, an app designed to help people gain insight into their own sending and receiving of texts and the impact of compulsion. She then founded the Digital Media and Psychology Lab, where she has continued to work on this research with students.

This past fall, Trub partnered with Pace psychology student Jonathan O’Hadi ‘16 to continue her Mindful Messaging research as part of the Undergraduate Student-Faculty Research program. O’Hadi began working with Trub when he was in his sophomore year and she describes him as being one of the central figures in her research projects at Pace and an obvious fit for the program.

“We are conducting a pilot study to examine the efficacy of Mindful Messaging in increasing mindfulness, emotional regulation, empathy, and relationship satisfaction, while decreasing impulsivity in text exchanges,” Trub explains. The research, they believe, represents an effort to embrace technology’s potential as a medium of increasing self-reflection and intentions toward authenticity and compassion.

“We want to bring the highly beneficial practice of mindfulness to the omnipresent practice of sending text messages,” writes O’Hadi in his research blog. “Texting is part of the way we interact with people, be it colleague, family member, or love interest.”

Through working with her lab students, Trub was able to use their valuable insights to refine and transform Mindful Messaging into a truly innovative and useful app. “I rely heavily on the students as experts in digital technology, and over time, they too have come to recognize the tremendous value they bring to the project,” she says.

That close bond she and O’Hadi shared with the other student researchers in the lab helped to shape the way those students began viewing smartphones, social networking, and the Internet. Students working on the Mindful Messaging app started taking the time to think about how the messages they were sending and receiving really impact themselves and the people they were corresponding with.

Though they are only in the preliminary data collection stage of the pilot, Trub and her team of researchers are eager to see what the data says regarding the efficacy of Mindful Messaging on the small group of just 40 pilot participants.

“The survey consists of a number of established measures with high validities we believe relate to texting behaviors,” explains O’Hadi. “We look to find correlations between measures assessing: attachment style, emotional regulation, risky texting behaviors, and mindfulness, to name a few, with texting behaviors.”

Once data collection finishes later this spring, data analysis and manuscript drafting are sure to follow. Because of the increase of and shift toward texting as a communications preference, Trub believes the app will hold some interest for organizations and agencies who are interested in how digital impulsivity relates to bullying, sexting, texting while driving, and drunk texting. O’Hadi is hopeful that once done collecting and processing the data that it will spark a discussion amongst scholars and fellow researchers.

“I am deeply appreciative of Pace’s commitment to supporting research mentorship through programs like the Undergraduate Student-Faculty Research Initiative,” concludes Trub. “It sends a powerful message to faculty and students alike about the importance of training students in the nuts and bolts of research in preparing them for graduate school and life outside of Pace.”