And here’s another study that hints at a solution to texting in class. A study of self-control suggests that “situation selection” is rated by students as the significantly most effective strategy (in this case, not bringing the phone to the class – maybe leave it in a locker) and next is a “situation modification strategy” (such as turning off the phone and putting it away in a backpack). These were reported by students as more likely self-control strategies than cognitive strategies such as shifting their attention away from the phone; cognitive self-talk and other cognitive strategies; or “response modulation” (“just do it”, that is, study) (Duckworth, White, Matteucci Shearer & Gross, 2016, p. 334).

The researchers designed an experiment based on these findings that compared the effectiveness of a situation modification strategy to a response modulation strategy in helping students resist temptation (to text, or go on the internet or game, or to procrastinate) and to then accomplish their study goals. They found that “college students encouraged to change their physical surroundings in ways that would help them achieve their study goals were more successful in actually accomplishing these goals in the following week” (Duckworth, et al., 2016, p. 338). That is, modifying the situation is significantly more effective at modulating the feeling of temptation, and increasing goal accomplishment, than focusing on regulating your own behaviour.

Although other research (such as Mischel’s delay of gratification marshmallow studies) found that cognitive strategies can work, Duckworth et al. (2016) speculated that it is too easy to reverse such an internal strategy as “thinking of something else”, while actually changing the situation takes time and effort to change. Going to the library or a quiet study carrel to study your textbook, for example, helps you resist the temptation to go on your laptop or phone to browse social media, especially if you don’t bring your laptop or phone in the first place!

Conclusion? Keep yourself from texting in class, or while studying, by arranging the situation to make it harder to get your phone out to use it. And this also works for resisting the temptation to talk on the phone or text while driving.

Before class begins, before your study session at home, and before you get in the car, turn off the phone. And put it away (where you can’t reach it, in the back seat or trunk of your car).

More helpful hints from psychology research! Experimentally proven to work.

Duckworth, A. L., White, R. E., Matteucci, A. J., Shearer, A., & Gross, J. J. (2016). A stitch in time: Strategic self-control in high school and college students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 108(3), 329-341. doi: 10.1037/edu0000062