Not so long ago it was considered a distant form of communication best reserved for business, but a new study suggests email is a more effective means to express romantic feelings than voicemail.
"The bottom line is that email is much better when you want to convey some information that you want someone to think about," says co-author Alan R. Dennis, the John T. Chambers Chair of Internet Systems in Indiana University's Kelley School of Business.
To understand how we respond emotionally to different forms of communication, Dennis and his colleague Taylor Wells, an assistant professor of management information systems at California State University-Sacramento, worked with 72 university-age participants.
Strong, thoughtful language that is more often a product of email and not voicemail arouses the emotions better than voicemail, they concluded.
"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," wrote the researchers.
Email affords the sender more control than voicemail does, since the content can be modified once you start working on it.
Senders of email are likely to spend more time on their craft, requiring them to think about it more deeply than when leaving a voicemail message, a factor the researchers attribute to increased arousal.
No difference was detected in how men and women reacted, and Dennis and Wells found that even for utilitarian messages, email aroused more psychophysiological responses than voicemail.
Examples of psychophysiological responses commonly associated with thought and emotion include heart-rate variability, muscle activity, eye movements and changes in pupil diameter.
Thought to be the first of its kind, the study goes against a theory called media naturalness that says communications get progressively less effective the further we slip away from face-to-face communications.
"There's a lot of theory that says email and other text communications don't really work very well," says Dennis. "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."
Of notable interest, the study suggests the medium used to communicate can determine the nature of the message.
During a communication exercise, participants sent less positive utilitarian emails than voicemails, yet when asked to talk romance, their emails were more positive than their voicemails.
The study was published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.
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