According to a poll involving more than 150 college-age students, many admit to hitting "send" while on a date, during sex, in the shower, in the middle of religious services or even while at a funeral.
The same poll found that many of those messaging agreed that this "inappropriate messaging" was socially frowned-upon bad behaviour. But they just couldn't help themselves.
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"People are going to message in these situations but they know it isn't the right thing to do," said study lead author Marissa Harrison, an associate professor of psychology at Penn State Harrisburg in Middletown, Penn.
"As an example, most people in our study said that it is wrong to text someone while talking in-person to someone else, but most of them did it anyway," she said. "Similarly, most people said that messaging others while on a date is not the right thing to do, but they did that anyway, too."
The findings were published online recently in the Social Science Journal.
More about the study
The new study polled respondents from a mid-sized university in the northeastern United States. Nearly 60 percent of the respondents were women, averaging just under 20 years of age.
The 70-question poll asked participants to gauge how much they messaged per day, how often they checked their incoming texts, whether or not they had ever messaged in 33 different social scenarios, and whether they thought messaging in each scenario was appropriate.
The result: More than one-third of the students said they send and/or receive at least 100 texts a day, and check their messages (on average) nearly 16 times an hour.
About 90 percent said they messaged while eating, and more than 80 percent said they messaged while going to the bathroom. Neither was considered to be an example of "taboo" messaging.
Other common messaging practices, however, were deemed not socially acceptable. For example, 70 percent of the students said they messaged while at the movies - no fun for fellow viewers. Most said they did so even though they knew that messaging during films is a social no-no.
Similarly, 75 percent said they messaged while at work, and eight in 10 messaged while in class, despite knowing that both activities were inappropriate.
Messaging while in the shower was also deemed inappropriate, but one-third of respondents said they did it anyway. Messaging while a waiter is taking an order was deemed wrong but nearly 40 percent said they'd done it, the findings showed.
Then there were the really egregious (scandalous) social 'messaging' indiscretion. For example, about 7 percent said they messaged while having sex, more than a fifth said they'd messaged during religious services, and 10 percent said they'd messaged during somebody's funeral.
Why do young people do this, even when they know it's bad behaviour?
"I would say it is just like other compulsions and impulses - there is something rewarding about sending and receiving a text message," Harrison said. "My guess is that is the immediacy of communication."
The flashy, loud nature of smartphones may also play a role, she suggested, playing on our innate desire to investigate and react to stimuli.
Eli Finkel is a professor of psychology and director of social psychology with the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.
He believes that inappropriate messaging ultimately boils down to a lack of self-control.
"It looks like messaging at inappropriate times is like chocolate cake when we're on a diet, or watching 'Game of Thrones' rather than studying," Finkel said. "We know what we're doing isn't good for us. But we do it anyway."
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