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Anyone who texts a lot has likely puzzled over the tone of a message. Was she serious or sarcastic? Is he angry or joking? The lack of nonverbal cues like tone and facial expressions makes it hard to tell, but a new study has found that we seem to have learned one rule: Adding a period at the end of your text makes it seem less sincere.
Led by Celia Klin at Binghamton University, the study had 126 undergrads evaluate a number of one-word text message responses (like "Sure" and "Yep"), terminating with various forms of punctuation. The texts that ended in periods were rated as being less sincere — yet handwritten notes with the same message and punctuation weren't.
Why? It seems to simply be the way people have learned to express and interpret that particular digital communication. The exclamation mark, notably, produced the opposite effect, making the responses sound more sincere to participants.
"Given that people are wonderfully adept at communicating complex and nuanced information in conversations, it’s not surprising that as texting evolves, people are finding ways to convey the same types of information in their texts," said Kim in a press release announcing the research.
"It makes sense that texters rely on what they have available to them — emoticons, deliberate misspellings that mimic speech sounds and, according to our data, punctuation," she continued.
The study, "Texting insincerely: The role of the period in text messaging," was published in November in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.