Young woman texting on her phone smiling

Punctuation in text messages can reveal sincerity

We make a lot of subconscious judgements about the world. The clothes someone wears, the haircut they choose, the car they drive all lead us to assumptions about the person. Many of those assumptions will be completely erroneous but that doesn’t stop us from making them. Now of course, we don’t only draw conclusions from a person’s physical presence but also from their cyberpresence. For instance, a new study has shown that we make judgements based on a person’s use of punctuation in their text messages.

A text message followed by an exclamation mark is interpreted as indicating greater sincerity.

For the study researchers had subjects read a series of exchanges that either appeared as text messages. In the exchanges the sender’s message contained a statement followed by a question such as: Dave gave me his extra tickets. Wanna come?

The response was an affirmative one word response such as Okay, Sure, or Yeah sometimes not ending with any punctuation but other times ending with a full stop.

In the judgement of the people viewing the exchange the replies were less sincere when there was a full stop at the end. So in the absence of other contextual cues the tone of one word can be perceive to change just with an addition, or not, of some punctuation. In a follow up study it was found that a text message followed by an exclamation mark is interpreted as indicating greater sincerity.

It seems when there is nothing else to justify a leap to judgement we will even turn to punctuation!

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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