Beware Facebook while studying?

Does multi-tasking and keeping Facebook open have a detrimental effect on student grades?
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Is it simply being present on a social networking site that can rear its ugly consequences in the form of your final grades, or can low GPA's be linked to specific actions?

A new study, due to be published in the journal Computers & Education, is titled 'No A 4 U: The relationship between multitasking and academic performance', explored this arena.

Reynol Junco, the author of the study and associate professor at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania, completed a previously published study in the journal Computers in Human Behavior. This study suggested there may be a link between social networks, other distracting activities, and GPA scores.


The previous study found that students’ GPAs showed a 0.12 point decrease for every 93 minutes above the average 106 minutes of daily Facebook use spent on the social networking site. While it revealed that Facebook as a whole could not be blamed for lower GPA's, specific, distracting activities including posting on walls and status updates may be the root cause of poor academic performance levels.

The new research, building upon the idea further, looks closely at the success of multitasking, and how a seemingly harmless open Facebook tab may have a negative impact on studies, or even how sending a text message could be detrimental.

Junco's study, using a sample group of 1,624 students enrolled at a four-year university, questioned students about their usual habits while they studied -- including answering emails, using instant messenger services, searching for information online and the use of Facebook and text messaging.

According to the study, the use of Facebook and text messages alone were correlated with lower GPA scores. No significant relationship was found between the use of other technology and grade point averages.

It seems that we are simply not designed to multi-task well -- gender jokes aside. Whether we are driving and using a GPS at the same time, or studying for an exam and using Facebook chat, by taking our concentration away from one activity, it may be that you lower your ability to perform and are unable to work well on a simultaneous basis.

"Human information processing is insufficient for attending to multiple input streams and for performing simultaneous tasks," the authors Reynol Junco and Shelia R. Cotton suggested.

Interestingly, it seems that the two activities which were found to have a direct correlation with a decreased ability to study properly are ones that are 'continual' tasks, rather than short, fixed activities -- such as looking up a term online.

If you have a continual stream of information, such as a friend messaging you, then this level of distraction may be the core reason that you cannot 'switch off' and focus on your studies at the same time.

Although there are other factors to keep in mind, for example the possibility that those who are inclined to message and use Facebook for real-time activities may also be involved in other activities that result in lowered GPA's, there are still a number of studies that come to the same conclusion -- social networking can result in lower grades.

By pinpointing exactly what types of social networking activities correlate, Junco's study can lead us to the conclusion that it is not purely being present and engaging on some kind of network, whether online or wirelessly -- but that it is being involved in real-time activities that require continual attention that may have a detrimental effect on academic studies.

Image credit: Viktor Hertz


Editorial standards