You want to reach someone, but worry it may not be the best time to call. So you send a text or email instead. Even though an electronic message may seem like an easier, less intrusive option, research shows that a phone call does a much better job of bringing people together.

“People feel significantly more connected through voice-based media, but they have these fears about awkwardness that are pushing them towards text-based media, ” Amit Kumar, one of the co-authors of a study that looked at ways to improve people’s ability to connect, explained.

Another misconception many have is that emails and texts take less time.

Two hundred people were asked to predict what it would be like to reconnect with an old friend of theirs, using either the phone or through an email. Then Kumar, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Texas, Austin and co-author Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago, randomly assigned them to actually do it.

Participants said they believed a phone call might make them feel more connected, but felt it would be too awkward, and that it would be much better to text or email first. But they were wrong. The phone call went much better than the email, the researchers found.

“When it came to actual experience, people reported they did form a significantly stronger bond with their old friend on the phone versus email, and they did not feel more awkward,” Kumar said.

The second experiment of the study was a little more awkward. Strangers were randomly assigned to connect with each other either by texting during a live chat, talking over video chat or talking using only audio. The two strangers had to ask and answer questions such as, “Is there something you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?” or “Can you describe a time you cried in front of another person?”

Participants thought they would feel just as connected to the stranger via text as by phone. Wrong again. The researchers reported when they really interacted, by answering personally meaningful questions, people felt much more connected when they communicated by talking than by typing. And, again, they found it wasn't more awkward to hear each other's voices. “People need to feel connected right now,” Kumar told UT’s McCombs School of Business Big Ideas website. “It’s worth knowing how your beliefs might be mistaken and what makes you feel more connected.”

Another misconception many have is that emails and texts take less time. Though it is possible one might have to spend time trying to reach someone by phone, when researchers timed participants reconnecting with their old friend, they noted that the call took about the same amount of time as reading and responding to email.

“We're being asked to maintain physical distance, but we still need these social ties for our well-being — even for our health,“ Kumar said. And while Zoom calls have become popular during the months of social isolation people have had to endure during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s hearing a person’s voice that seemed to matter more than the video, the researchers found.

A text or email is better than no communication at all; but the study’s findings, that voice to voice contact is more satisfying and connects us in ways we might not expect, are worth keeping in mind. Try it yourself. The next time you feel like reaching out, use your phone to make a call.

The study appears in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.