A pilot study at Ohio State University has found that Facebook users in college have lower grades and spend less time studying. I pieced together the following chart from the news release:


Aryn Karpinski, a co-author of the study and doctoral student in education at Ohio State University, said that:

There may be other factors involved, such as personality traits, that link Facebook use and lower grades. 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. But perhaps the lower GPAs could actually be because students are spending too much time socializing online.

The news release noted that:

Typically, Facebook users in the study had GPAs between 3.0 and 3.5, while non-users had GPAs between 3.5 and 4.0. In addition, users said they averaged one to five hours a week studying, while non-users studied 11 to 15 hours per week.

Karpinski said it was significant that the link between lower grades and Facebook use was found even in graduate students.  She said that graduate students generally have GPAs above 3.5, so the fact that even they had lower grades when they used Facebook — and spent less time studying – was an amazing finding.

My reaction when I started reading the news release was “They found some undergrads who aren’t using Facebook?” Then, sure enough, I found when I calculated the numbers that there were a mere 15 undergraduate non-Facebook users in the study.

I confess that I’m a little wary of some of Karpinski’s generalizations. Although she noted that other factors may be involved besides Facebook use or non-use, the ones that she hypothesized have to do with personality traits and/or predilection for online socialization.

Right now I’m not totally convinced that these findings don’t just represent the fact that about 80% of her non-Facebook users were graduate students. I think it’s safe to say that grad students generally spend more time studying than undergrads. Also, as she noted, grad students’ GPAs typically are higher.

In my mind, the overall generalizations from the study don’t seem to adequately recognize the extremely heavy skew in the non-Facebook group toward graduate students. If I saw that the data (to which she alluded) show that the lower grade trend for grad students was of equivalent size to the undergrad group, then I’d have more confidence in the overall generalizations that are being made in the news release.

Maybe Karpinski will find this post and share some more about her study. Clearly it’s a provocative topic and, if replicated at a larger scale, might provide some really useful information. While her data likely won’t curb Facebook use among college students, they might at least help us understand the potential impact of social networking on postsecondary academic achievement.

One final note: We all should look at – and think carefully about – any research findings that get reported out like this. We need to ask questions like Does this make gut-level sense? and Are the generalizations limited to the data or overbroad? and What more do I need to know to be confident in these findings?. Being informed consumers of research is critical if we are to make research- and/or data-driven decisions to benefit our students.