Study says Facebook not to blame for negative impact on grades

January 20, 2015, Iowa State University
An Iowa State professor says helping college students balance social media use and schoolwork is better than disconnecting. Credit: Iowa State University

It may not come as a surprise that the more time college students, particularly freshmen, spend on Facebook, the more their grades suffer. In his latest study, Reynol Junco, an associate professor of education at Iowa State University, found that while freshman struggle to balance their use, social media is less of a problem for upper classmen. The difference relates to self-regulation.

Junco surveyed more than 1,600 college about their Facebook behavior, looking at time spent strictly using the social networking site and time spent on Facebook while multitasking. In the study, published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, freshmen averaged a total of two hours a day. For just over half of that time spent on Facebook, freshmen said they were also doing schoolwork.

Sophomores, juniors and seniors also reported using Facebook while studying, but how it affected their grade point average varied. For freshmen, all Facebook use had a negative impact on their grades. For sophomores and juniors, only time spent using Facebook while doing schoolwork hurt their GPA. For seniors, there was no relationship between the two.

It would be easy to conclude that simply spending less time on Facebook would improve a student's GPA, but Junco cautions against rushing to that conclusion. Certain tasks on Facebook, such as sharing links and checking in with friends, were positively linked to GPA. And in previous research, Junco found that tasks, such as creating or RSVP'ing to an event, were positively linked to student engagement.

"It's not just the way students are accessing the site, but the way in which they're using the site that has an effect on academic outcomes," Junco said. "Students use to make friends and create the support network they need. If they're committed to their social circles, then they're also committed to their institution, and that's a major part of ."

Facebook is not the problem

The negative relationship between Facebook use and GPA has little to do with Facebook, Junco said. Instead it is reflective of a broader issue, one that all students must confront when they go to college - self-regulation. And in that regard, Facebook use is no different than any other distraction for students.

"Freshmen have all of these adjustment issues. They come to college and they don't know what to do, because they don't have a parent or teacher telling them when to study, what to eat or when to go to bed," Junco said. "They haven't developed the self-regulation skills that they need."

Most students will develop that skill throughout their college career. But Junco says higher education professionals can offer more assistance and teach students about responsible Facebook use, rather than telling them to completely abstain from social media. Parents and teachers could also do a better job of helping students develop better self-regulation in middle and high school.

There could be several explanations for the fact that seniors in the study used Facebook while studying, although for a shorter period of time, without seeing an effect on their grades. Junco says it could be that they have learned how to better multitask. He attributes the drop in seniors' Facebook use to two factors. One, they have built a strong social network and rely less on social media to meet new people. And two, they are looking ahead to their future careers.

Taken in consideration with his other studies on this topic, Junco says the negative effect on GPA does not outweigh the positives associated with social media use, and academic success.

Explore further: Engaging students through social media is focus of new book

Related Stories

Engaging students through social media is focus of new book

August 19, 2014

Contrary to popular belief about the negative effects of social media, Reynol Junco is using Facebook and Twitter to help college students succeed. Instead of seeing social media as a distraction in the classroom, Junco says ...

Facebook CEO wants more students to explore tech

September 18, 2014

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants to turn more American high school students into well-paid techies—and even hire some of them to work at his social-media company.

Alcohol use, anxiety predict Facebook use by college students

April 10, 2013

With nearly one billion users worldwide, Facebook has become a daily activity for hundreds of millions of people. Because so many people engage with the website daily, researchers are interested in how emotionally involved ...

Recommended for you

University choice and achievement partly down to DNA

October 18, 2018

Research from King's College London has shown for the first time that genetics plays a significant role in whether young adults choose to go to university, which university they choose to attend and how well they do.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Jan 21, 2015
Facebook permeates all levels of American society, especially the young, but also their parents and grandparents. It is and has always been a huge waste of time and resources better spent productively. It has also always been a source of friction between people as much as short every emotion floating around in a 'barroom' can be found from permutations of sex, drugs, rock and roll to quote a character from StarGateSG1. Enough havoc from this can be from computers, but the 'smartfone' has brought its problems to classroom cheating, exam paper exchanging, etc. The combo of smartfone with a camera and classroom students now even with stealthy wristwatches and google glasses can make multiple choice exams history; and writing pattern analyses applied to written or typed exams a necessary reality to spot cheating. Overuse of FB is an inverse function of IQ and tech sophistication of users, so it is natural that as the stupid fail out, what is left are the more fit.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.