How many times have you agonized over the meaning behind a text? You can’t text someone a tone of voice, and you certainly can’t leave a voicemail with your facial expressions. But given that texting is the most popular smartphone activity, it’s important to convey our message without getting any signals crossed. According to a new study from Binghamton University, refining your text messages might be as simple as changing your punctuation.
Researchers from the university found that messages ending with a period were perceived as less sincere than other texts. That may or may not surprise you—if you’re the type who overanalyzes curt messages that end in a period, and sighs with relief at sentences marked with exclamation points, these findings, published in Computers in Human Behavior, probably make a lot of sense.
The researchers tested text-messaging exchanges between 126 college students. The sender invited a friend to a concert, and the recipient sent back a one-word response: Okay, Sure, Yeah, and Yup. They sent each response twice, once punctuated with a period and once without any punctuation. People perceived the punctuated messages as less sincere.
Punctuation carries more weight in text messages since the “social and contextual cues were missing,” according to researchers. “When speaking, people easily convey social and emotional information with eye gaze, facial expressions, tone of voice, pauses, and so on," lead researcher Celia Klin said in a statement. "People obviously can’t use these mechanisms when they are texting.”