From the University of Winnipeg News Centre, a press release dated 04/11/2013, "Study Supports Theory On Teen Texting And Shallow Thought":
A University of Winnipeg study finds that students who are heavy texters place less importance on moral, aesthetic, and spiritual goals, and greater importance on wealth and image. Those who texted more than 100 times a day were 30 per cent less likely to feel strongly that leading an ethical, principled life was important to them, in comparison to those who texted 50 times or less a day. Higher texting frequency was also consistently associated with higher levels of ethnic prejudice. […]
The main goal of the study was to test the so-called ”shallowing hypothesis,” described in the Nicholas Carr bestseller, The Shallows, and by some social neuroscientists. According to the shallowing hypothesis, ultra-brief social media like texting and Twitter encourages rapid, relatively shallow thought and consequently very frequent daily use of such media should be associated with cognitive and moral shallowness.
As a result of the press release, this research has been widely reported: "Too much texting can make you shallow, obsessed with bling and have low self-esteem issues says university study", Daily Mail 4/13/2013; "Frequent texters tend to be shallow, research suggests", CBC News 4/11/2013; "Too much texting can make teens shallow: Study", Times of India 4/15/2013; "Heavy texting makes teens shallow", ANI 4/14/2013; "Texting Study: Frequent Texting Makes You Shallow, Says University Of Winnipeg", Huffington Post Canada 4/12/2013; "Heavy texting linked to lesser ethics, greater prejudice, study finds", UPI 4/13/2013; "Texting Linked To Shallowness, Racist Attitudes", Medical Daily 4/13/2013; "Texting Linked To Being Shallow Person Obsessed With Bling And Image, New Study", The Inqusitr 4/14/2013; "Study: Frequent Texters Tend to Be Shallow, Wealth-Obsessed", SFist 4/12/2013; "Study: People Who Text Frequently Tend To Be More Racist, Shallow", CBS Cleveland; etc.
Interestingly, this is the second time around around for this bombshell, with the first pass being associated with a conference presentation more than a year ago (Paul Trapnell and Lisa Sinclair, "Texting frequency and the moral shallowing hypothesis", Annual Meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, San Diego, CA 2012).
This was reported e.g. in Kathleen Doheny, "Can Too Much Texting Make Teens Shallow? Study: Young People Who Text Frequently Focus on Wealth, Image; Less on Moral, Spiritual Goals", WebMD 2/3/2012. But it wasn't picked up so widely at the time, perhaps because the presentation was rather more circumspect:
"Heavy texters do seem to be a little more materialistic and less concerned about inward growth," says Paul Trapnell, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the University of Winnipeg in Canada.
The frequent texting, he says, is "weakly correlated with traits, goals, and attitudes that indicate low interest and engagement in reflective thought." Those who texted very frequently were also more concerned about wealth and image than those who did not text as often.
He conducted the study with Lisa Sinclair, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the University of Winnipeg. She presented the findings in San Diego at the 13th Annual Meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.
"One can't say it's cause and effect," Trapnell tells WebMD. "There could be a hundred different reasons why these associations exist."
"Although the overall size of the finding is small in absolute terms, the finding was very reliable across several years," he tells WebMD.
This time around, the authors have learned not to use buzz-killing phrases like "weakly correlated", "can't say it's cause and effect", "small in absolute terms", etc.
But my main point here is that 14 months and two rounds of publicity later, there's still no publication except for the press releases. There's nothing cited or linked on the authors' web sites, nothing that Google Scholar can find (except for an empty reference to the SPSP 2012 poster), nothing on arXiv or cogprints– nothing. Two years of press releases with no publication suggests, shall we say, a certain lack of scientific depth. Trapnell and Sinclair must be texting too much.
Seriously, why should we care? Why does traditional scientific etiquette frown on publicity in advance of any documentation of the publicized research? Because such popularization is often over-interpreted, under-controlled, egregiously mis-described, or simply irrelevant to the associated issue.
If the underlying research is documented in reasonable detail, we can determine that the public representation is misleading or nonsensical, as I did in the cases cited above. But if there's no documentation beyond the press release and a few media quotes from the authors, all we can do is register the opinion that there probably isn't much there — that we're looking at weak correlations in a domain where lots of dependent measures (many measured "traits, goals, and attitudes") and lots of possible independent measures (various levels and patterns of social-media usage) make it almost inevitable that some weak correlations will be available.
In addition, there are many reasons to expect weak relationships between amount of texting and various measures of "shallowness", on common-sense grounds that don't involve any causal effects of new-media usage — for example, Craig Ross et al., "Personality and motivations associated with Facebook use", Computers in Human Behavior 2009:
Conscientiousness has previously been shown to be negatively related to the use of the Internet and other forms of CMC (Butt and Phillips, 2008 and Swickert et al., 2002). This trend is likely given that those who are high on the trait of Conscientiousness are dutiful and responsible in their tasks, and therefore those scoring high on the trait of Conscientiousness are more likely to avoid CMC tools which may serve as procrastination or distraction tools from their daily tasks.
Is this the sort of thing that's going on the Trapnell and Sinclair research? Who knows? Until serious documentation of the research is available, all we can do is speculate.