Conveying and registering a wide range of subtle emotions in face-to-face conversations is instinctive. A curl of the lip here, widened eyes there. Facial movements are just so expressive, and our ability to process them so sophisticated, that written communication is fraught with problems caused by their omission.
Computer-mediated Communication (CMC) has given us plenty of answers to this problem, from emojis and emoticons to gifs and selfies (not to mention Facetime and Skype, which brings us back to picking up on real time facial tics), but one question still plagues texters: if you finish a message with a full stop, does it suggest a degree of callousness to the reader?
Science says yes.
A new study led by New York’s Binghamton University has found that SMS messages ending with a period are perceived as less sincere. As part of a paper titled ‘Texting Insincerely: the Role of the Period in Text Messaging,’ researchers presented a group of 126 undergraduates with a series of 16 conversations framed in two different ways: as handwritten notes or as text messages. A typical exchange began with an invitation (“Dave gave me his extra tickets. Wanna come?”) which was followed by a variety of one-word responses (“Okay” and “Sure” etc) each one with or without a period. The results showed that, when the reply is sent via SMS and concluded with a period, subjects rate the response as less sincere than when no punctuation is used. No such effect was reported in the handwritten note samples.
To slavish devotees of proper grammar, this may come as a surprise. After all, finishing a statement with a period is what was drummed into us at school. It’s the correct way to write english, isn’t it?
According to the research team, the lack of social cues present in text message communication has imbued punctuation and other keyboard characters with fresh meaning. For a generation of texters, periods convey brusqueness, a sense of finality that seems to ask to be left alone. Without the full stop, the conversation is left open ended, inviting the recipient to continue the dialogue.
We're not sure how we feel about the period-less sentence, even in a text message. But if you want to indicate an open-ending to your SMS messages and invite further discussion, it's three times quicker than an ellipsis...