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AUSTIN, Texas — Picking up the phone to catch up with a friend may do more for your friendship than sending a simple text. A new study finds that giving people a phone call creates stronger social bonds than sending a text or email. Researchers say an actual call makes people feel more socially “connected” when it comes to building a relationship with strangers or long lost friends.

People often rely heavily on technology to manage their social lives, particularly since being given ever-stricter social distancing measures in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Choosing to send text messages or emails because the idea of making a phone call feels uncomfortable could have the opposite effect.

“In the study, people chose to type because they believed a phone call would be more awkward, but they were wrong,” says study co-author Dr. Amit Kumar, a McCombs School of Business assistant professor of marketing, in a media release. “People feel significantly more connected through voice-based media, but they have these fears about awkwardness that are pushing them towards text-based media.”

Phone calls aren’t as awkward as they might seem

About 200 people were asked whether they would prefer to reconnect with an old friend via phone or email, before being told to follow through with it. Participants admitted making a phone call would make them feel more connected. Yet they would still prefer to send a text or an email, because chatting over the phone would be “too awkward.”

Phone calls were found to bring people closer than sending a message in a text or email, the researchers say.

“When it came to actual experience, people reported they did form a significantly stronger bond with their old friend on the phone versus email, and they did not feel more awkward,” says Kumar.

There’s something about hearing a voice that strengthens social connections

In another study, strangers were randomly asked to connect by texting during a live-chat, talking over video or only using audio. A series of personal questions was given to participants to ask. Questions included: “Is there something you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?” or “Can you describe a time you cried in front of another person?”

Using different media to communicate would not make a difference, participants believed. But people who “really interacted” felt a lot more connected when they could hear the stranger’s voice.

Even without visual cues, hearing the person’s voice was key to creating a social bond, the researchers found.

“The results both reveal and challenge people’s assumptions about communication media at a time when managing relationships via technology is especially important,” says Kumar. “We’re being asked to maintain physical distance, but we still need these social ties for our well-being, even for our health.”

Making a phone call took just as much time as responding to a text message or email when reconnecting with long lost friends, the researchers also found. This challenges the commonly held belief sending a message is quicker than picking up the phone.

The findings are published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

SWNS writer Tom Campbell contributed to this report.

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