Say you’ve matched with someone on Tinder. You both had to swipe right, so it's safe to say you find each other attractive or intriguing—or maybe one person’s hand slipped. Regardless, it gives you a boost of confidence when chatting with them. So when they send you a text, you reply almost immediately. (We all know how attached we are to our smartphones, so it’s silly to pretend you didn’t see their message.) Plus, we’re all big boys and girls here: No need for those petty, childish games where you wait 10 minutes or maybe an hour to text them back, right?
In recent years behavioral scientists have shed some light on why waiting techniques can be powerful. Let’s first look at the notion that texting back right away makes you less appealing. Psychologists have conducted hundreds of studies in which they reward lab animals in different ways under different conditions. One of the most intriguing findings is that “reward uncertainty”—in which, for instance, animals cannot predict whether pushing a lever will get them food—can dramatically increase their interest in getting a reward, while also enhancing their dopamine levels so that they basically feel coked up.
If a text back from someone is considered a “reward,” consider the fact that lab animals who get rewarded for pushing a lever every time will eventually slow down because they know that the next time they want a reward, it will be waiting for them. So basically, if you are the guy or girl who texts back immediately, you are taken for granted and ultimately lower your value as a reward. As a result, the person doesn’t feel as much of an urge to text you or, in the case of the lab animal, push the lever.
Texting is a medium that conditions our minds in a distinctive way, and we expect our exchanges to work differently with messages than they did with phone calls. Before everyone had a cell phone, people could usually wait a while—up to a few days, even—to call back before reaching the point where the other person would get concerned. Texting has habituated us to receiving a much quicker response… When we don’t get the quick response, our mind freaks out.
To learn why our brains are primed to fill the gaps between texts with the worst case scenario and how all of that pinging back and forth is like a gambling addiction, check out the full excerpt over on Nautilus.