May 6, 2016

Reach out and touch someone

Q: Did you see in the Herald that texting doesn’t help relationships?

A: That’s what they said, yes.

Q: And is it what they found?

A: Hard to tell. There aren’t any real descriptions of the results

Q: What did they do?

A: Well, a couple of years ago, the researcher had a theory that “sending just one affectionate text message a day to your partner could significantly improve your relationship.”

Q: So the research changed her mind?

A: Sounds like.

Q: That’s pretty impressive, isn’t it?

A: Yes, though it doesn’t necessary mean it should change our mind.

Q: It sounds like a good study, though. Enrol some people and regularly remind half of them to send affectionate text messages.

A: Not what they did

Q: They enrolled mice?

A: I don’t think there are good animal models for assessing affectionate text messages. Selfies, maybe.

Q: Ok, so that publicity item about the research is headlined “Could a text a day keep divorce away?”

A: Yes.

Q: Did they people about their text-messaging behaviour and then wait to see who got divorced?

A: It doesn’t look like it.

Q: What did they do?

A: It’s not really clear: there are no details in the Herald story or in the Daily Mail story they took it from.  But they were recruiting people for an online survey back in 2014.

Q: A bogus poll?

A: Well, if you want to put it that way, yes. It’s not as bogus when you’re trying to find out if two things are related rather than how common one thing is.

Q: <dubiously> Ok . And then what?

A: It sounds like they interviewed some of the people, and maybe asked them about the quality of their relationships. And that people who didn’t see their partners or who didn’t get affection in person weren’t as happy even if they got a lot of texts.

Q: Isn’t that what you’d expect anyway? I mean, even if the texts made a huge difference, you’d still wish that you had more time together or that s/he didn’t stop being affectionate when they got off the phone.

A: Pretty much. The research might have considered that, but we can’t tell from the news story. There doesn’t even seem to be an updated press release, let alone any sort of publication.

Q: So people shouldn’t read this story and suddenly stop any social media contact with their sweetheart?

A: No. That was last week’s story.



Thomas Lumley (@tslumley) is Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Auckland. His research interests include semiparametric models, survey sampling, statistical computing, foundations of statistics, and whatever methodological problems his medical collaborators come up with. He also blogs at Biased and Inefficient See all posts by Thomas Lumley »