Mindful Messaging and Digital Dating Research
What impact does digital communication have on our psychological and physical well-being? How can its use better serve humanity and help us find a healthy balance between the digital and real world?
Associate Professor of Psychology Leora Trub and her Digital Research Lab at Pace are at the forefront of research seeking answers to these questions.
“In my research, I strive to investigate the forces that underlie our society’s rampant and ever-increasing reliance on digital technology, in hopes of helping people gain awareness and find ways to regain control where it has been lost,” says Trub.
Her studies on digital communication have included topics such as drunk texting; the motivations that underlie texting actions; behavioral tendencies related to following strangers on social media; and relationship satisfaction and texting similarity.
However, she is not only helping to create an understanding of the role of digital communication in people’s lives and relationships, but also determining how to harness digital media to improve communication.
And, there’s an app for that.
Making a difference
When Trub came to Pace in 2012, she founded the Digital Media and Psychology Lab as a home base to do her research, immediately putting to use a ThinkFinity grant from the Provost Office for the first project of the lab.
Called Mindful Messaging, it suggests that a technology-based mindfulness intervention may cultivate the very qualities that technology tends to inhibit in people, such as thoughtful reflection, self-awareness, empathy, perspective taking, and so forth. This, in turn, may result in greater interpersonal skills and awareness in all aspects of life.
Says Trub, “We have to find a place to be reflective about the effect that an external object has on us and find ways to take some of that control back. It's important to develop a relationship to your devices that incorporates a sense of self-understanding."
Here’s how it works.
The app offers users a series of short lessons and mindfulness-based practices geared at shifting their relationship to texting. Users move sequentially through the content over a period of three weeks, and during weeks two and three, are invited to compose text messages that are emotionally laden in some way. In this exercise, the app offers a short guided meditation after the messages are composed and prior to its delivery. After this reflection, users are asked to assess both their own state of mind and the type of interaction, followed by a tailored audio message offering the option to reconsider the communication in light of their increased awareness
The results have been very positive.
A preliminary study has shown that use of the app was associated with increased mindfulness, decreased drunk texting, fewer accidents while texting and walking, as well as less texting while driving and sexting. In addition, texts created using the app’s tool conveyed increased self-awareness, honesty, empathy and perspective taking.
Faculty and student teamwork
In her lab, Trub collaborated with Assistant Professor of Psychology Baptiste Barbot on the creation of scales that measure aspects of people’s digital media use, bringing in Psychology students at the undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral level to work with her on various aspects of her research. She even invited a Dyson Art major to consult on ideas for the app’s graphics.
Students became so engaged with their work with Trub that they often return upon graduation to attend meetings and continue to contribute.
“They really feel deeply invested and empowered by my reliance on them in a very real and honest way. Not just by doing busy work, but offering ideas and creative insight into how people actually use these technologies which they know a lot about.”
Alumna Katerina Lup ‘14, MA in Psychology, works as an addictions counselor and participated in Trub’s lab while a graduate student. On the importance of their research, she says, “today, when people spend hours on their phones, and their identity is almost defined by their social media presence, the intersection of psychology and digital media is an incredibly important field of study.”
Both Ana Lomidze ‘23 and Matthew Berler ‘19, doctoral students in the School-Clinical Child Psychology program, are also involved in research at the lab.
Lomidze, who had worked on the Mindful Messaging app as an undergraduate student, has returned to work in the lab. She says, “It was very easy to seek out Dr. Trub and join her lab again. She really set the tone for the rest of my aspirations in research and in the field of psychology in general. I'm glad we get to work together again now that I have a lot more experience. I'm excited for what's next.”
Berler is conducting interviews with psychologists about how technology and social media have impacted their clinical practice. He is researching the ways in which having access to massive amounts of personal information on patients and their therapists online, through social media and other Internet technologies, impacts psychotherapy and the therapeutic relationship.
Trub’s research has expanded to a new study, the first of its kind, which looks to explore online dating amongst 21-53-year olds, with a focus on several themes in which deeper psychological conflicts are played out in digital space.
Some of these include states of fantasy commonly created by an endless array of options (always “swiping” to view more prospective mates) in online dating platforms; the prevalence of projection, and thus, illusion, in digital profiles; the effects of distance and anonymity; and the impacts of shame in looking for true love online.
In addition, in September 2018, she received $10,000 in funding from the Center for HIV Education Studies and Training to conduct a larger pilot study testing the efficacy of Mindful Messaging, and gathering feedback about how to improve the current app from a sample of high-risk teenagers and young adults.
We look forward to the continued success of Trub and her team at Dyson in helping society make reflective use of the many forms digital communication we have so readily available at our fingertips.