Hoping to convey something important to a loved one? Forget about calling and leaving a voicemail—new research suggests email might actually be the more romantic way to communicate.
Although voicemail is often considered a more intimate medium, a new study from Indiana University shows that an email—which is commonly thought of as impassive and business-like—can be more effective than a voicemail when it comes to expressing romantic feelings. The research will be published in Computers of Human Behavior.
The researchers asked 72 college-age men and women to compose emails and leave voicemails for their spouse, girlfriend, or boyfriend. Those who weren't in a relationship created messages for someone they were hoping to ask out. The participants produced both romantic and utilitarian (task-based) messages, and skin sensors were placed on their faces to measure their emotions. To measure arousal, sensors were placed on the subjects’ feet.
The participants became more aroused and emotionally excited when sending romantic emails versus voicemails, and they also used stronger and more thoughtful language. And it wasn’t just romantic content that elicited arousal and positive emotion: Sending the utilitarian emails provoked more arousing psychophysiological responses as well.
“The bottom line is that email is much better when you want to convey some information that you want someone to think about,” Alan R. Dennis, one of the authors, said in a statement.
The authors, who expected that the participants would find email to be more frustrating than voicemail for romantic communication, proposed three possible explanations for their findings.
“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,” Dennis and co-author Taylor M. Wells wrote in their paper.
Additionally, sending an email gives people the option of modifying their content, allowing them to choose their words more carefully.
“A sender records a voicemail in a single take, and it can be sent or discarded and re-recorded, but not edited," the authors wrote. "Thus senders engage with email messages longer and may think about the task more deeply than when leaving voicemails. This extra processing may increase arousal.”
Finally, the college-age participants have grown up texting and emailing—so while emailing may seem unnatural to older generations, it is second nature to millennials.
“In this case, we found people adapted,” Dennis said. “Email’s been in the popular consciousness since the 1990s, and if you look at the new generation of millennials, and that’s who we studied, they’ve grown up with email and text messaging. So it may not be as unnatural a medium as we at first thought."