Study Links Facebook to Lower GPA

It almost seems intuitive, doesn’t it?

A pair of academic researchers has just wrapped up a study that led them to the arresting conclusion that college students who spend more time on Facebook and less time studying earn lower marks than their peers who steer clear of the social networking site.

At the same time, most Facebook users the researchers polled maintained that the time they spent on Facebook didn’t take away from their studies. Nevertheless, the study found that Facebook users reported spending between one and five hours studying each week, compared to non-users, who said they studied between 11 and 15 hours each week.

Grade point averages of non-users typically ranged between 3.5 and 4.0, while Facebook users’ marks often fell between 3.0 and 3.5.

“We can’t say that use of Facebook leads to lower grades and less studying, but we did find a relationship there,” Aryn Karpinski, a co-author of the study and a doctoral student at Ohio State University, said in a statement.

“There’s a disconnect between students’ claim that Facebook use doesn’t impact their studies, and our finding showing they had lower grades and spent less time studying,” she said.

The proper role of Facebook and other social sites in the academy has been a subject of growing debate. In a high-profile case last year, a student in a Toronto university was accused of cheating and threatened with expulsion for setting up a study group on Facebook. The student avoided expulsion, but received a failing grade for the homework portion of the class.

Karpinski and Adam Duberstein, a researcher at Ohio Dominican University, are due to present their research on Thursday at the annual conference of American Educational Research Association in San Diego.

On the other hand, some universities are beginning to look at the use of Facebook and other forms of new and social media on the Internet as a legitimate field of study. Ranging from scholarly inquiries into the way people represent themselves online to the more practical business-prep courses, which aim to churn out tech-savvy social-media consultants who can advise firms on how to connect with consumers in the Web 2.0 world, social media is gaining street cred in academia.

But whatever its legitimate academic or business implications, social media remains in large measure what it has always been: a diversion.

Empirical evidence abounds that students in classrooms where laptops are permitted spend time on sites like Facebook, the researchers said.

“It may be that if it wasn’t for Facebook, some students would still find other ways to avoid studying, and would still get lower grades,” Karpinski said. “But perhaps the lower GPAs could actually be because students are spending too much time socializing online.”

The researchers admitted that their study is “exploratory,” noting the relatively small sample size of 221 undergraduate and graduate students at Ohio State. Of those, 148 said they are on Facebook.

Among undergraduates, 85 percent said they had a Facebook account, compared to 52 percent of graduate students they polled.

Students concentrating in science, technology, engineering and math — disciplines that other studies have linked to higher rates of Internet usage — and business majors were more likely to be on Facebook than other students.

The study also found that Facebook is more popular with full-time, younger students. Those who spent more time working at a part-time job spent less time on the site, while usage increased among students more involved with campus extracurricular activities.

For Karpinski, who does not have a Facebook account, the subject merits more study, though her own opinion is clear enough.

“For me, I think Facebook is a huge distraction,” she said.

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