The purpose of the present study was to investigate the decision making process underlying texting in the classroom from a behavioral economic perspective. A sample of 136 undergraduate students completed a novel delay-discounting task that involved a hypothetical scenario in which, after receiving a text message in the classroom, they rated their likelihood of replying to a text message immediately versus waiting until the class is over to reply. The scenario presented several delays (ranged from 1 min to 75 min) under two cell-phone-policy conditions (with and without a policy that banned in-class cell phone use). Participants also completed a behavioral assessment of impulsivity with a delay-discounting task involving hypothetical monetary rewards and a self-reported assessment of the dispositional trait of impulsivity. The results show that the decrease in the likelihood of waiting to reply as a function of the delay was well described by a hyperboloid delay discounting function. The rates of discounting were greater for students who self-reported higher frequencies of texting in the classroom as well as under the condition without the cell phone policy. Finally, students who self-reported higher frequencies of texting in the classroom were more impulsive in both behavioral and self-reported measures of impulsivity. These results support the conclusion that the decision making underlying texting in the classroom can be well characterized using the delay-discounting paradigm and that texting in the classroom is fundamentally an impulsive choice. A behavioral economic approach may be a useful research tool for investigating the decision-making process underlying texting in the classroom, and possibly other forms of media multitasking.
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