We seem to have a love-hate relationship with predictive text. When it works, the convenience of cell phone software that types most of our words for us is a blessing. When it fails, predictive text flubs are at best comical and at worst frustrating and time-consuming. However, it's possible that predictive text software might have more serious consequences, especially for our youth.
While many of us appreciate the convenience and speed of predictive texting, often having only to type a few letters to produce the word we want, adolescents could be suffering developmentally from the popular software. By doing the legwork and editing for us, predictive texting software has made us less inclined to do that work ourselves. While adult SMS users may already be well-wired to pay attention to details, and meet high demands to do so in their careers and other duties, there is concern that more plastic adolescents will learn to take the quick and lazy approach long-term, paying less attention to detail and making more mistakes. And, indeed, research shows higher rates of spelling errors among young adolescents who text more frequently.
Even worse, predictive text may be causing a similar deficit not only in young people's linguistic abilities, but in their general performance at their various activities and duties. By consistently texting in a way that favors speed over accuracy, developing youths may internalize a general habit towards being quick over being accurate. Such an approach can harm young people's academic performance and, moving forward, their performance and prospects at work.
A study from Monash University in Melbourne, published in the Journal of Bioelectromagnetics, put this worry to the test with a group of participants aged 11 to 14 years old. About 25% of the participants made 15 or more phone calls per week, and about 25% sent more than 20 text messages per week. Each participant was administered an IQ test. Epidemiologist Michael Abramson, who led the research, found that the participants who texted more often tended to work faster but score lower on the tests.
This heightened tendency to act quickly may not only impede adolescent test and academic performance, but could even cause higher levels of impulsivity among young people who text often with predictive text software. Through frequent messaging with predictive text and other careless behaviors, young people can become so accustomed to acting quickly and without thought that they may garner a more general propensity towards thoughtless, impulsive action. Coupled with the underdeveloped pre-frontal cortices and resulting impulsivity we already know and love in our youth, such a deficit could mean trouble for adolescents.
With growing social and practical pressure for even very young adolescents to have cell phones and send text messages, how should we address this problem? The answer may be simple: disabling predictive text on our kids' phones is an easy way to stave off its negative effects. Of course, some adolescents might fight back against this approach. In these cases, perhaps the best approach is to seek out activities for young people that demand a high level of attention to detail. Hopefully this way, we can counter the damage predictive text may be causing.
About the Author -
Sharon Housley is the VP of Marketing for NotePage,
Inc. a software company for communication software solutions.