You want to tell your honey that you love them, but they’re busy. Do you email them or leave a voicemail?
Most people would say that email is not very good for communicating emotions, so you’re better off using voicemail. That’s what I thought too. But being a scientist, I thought it might be a good idea to test it.
I got together with Taylor Wells (one of my doctoral students who is now a professor at California State University Sacramento) and planned a study that was recently published in Computers in Human Behavior. We recruited 72 undergraduate students and asked them to send a series of emails and voicemails to someone they were interested in romantically. We placed sensors on them to measure how they felt as they were sending the messages: how excited they got (using skin conductance measures) and how positive or negative they felt (using facial electromyography). We also analyzed the content of the messages to see how exciting and how positive and negative their words were.
Participants felt the same level of positive emotion regardless of whether they used email or voicemail. In other words, the romantic partner trumped the media; the person mattered more than the media.
But, this wasn’t true for how excited they got. Surprisingly, participants got more excited, more emotionally involved, when they wrote emails than when they left voicemail. Not what we expected at all.
The other unexpected finding was that people said different things in email than in voicemail. The emails were more emotional. Participants used more positive and more arousing words in email than when sending the same message in voicemail. Perhaps they realized that it is hard to convey emotion in email, and therefore they compensated by being more explicit in their words. Or perhaps they felt more comfortable saying more romantic words in email than they did in voicemail. Or perhaps the ability to edit the email enabled them to more carefully craft their message to say exactly what they wanted, which was more explicit. As we professors like to say, this calls for more research.
So what’s the take away? Well, the media you choose for that romantic message changes how you feel emotionally and what you choose to say. Email makes you more excited, and you are more likely to say more romantic words (more positive and arousing).
We didn’t study how the recipient responded to romantic emails versus voicemails, but other research shows that men have a hard time picking up on vocal cues; they respond better if the words are more explicit. So if your romantic partner is male, you might just want to email him. Who knows, women may prefer the more explicit words of email too. And if you want your partner to feel more excited about your relationship, ask them to email you.