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Jan 22, 2015 08:11 PM EST

Facebook Not to Blame For Negative Impact on Grades


There is a strong association between social media use and academics: the more time college students, particularly freshmen, spend on social media sites such as Facebook, the more their grades suffer.

However, a researcher 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.

"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," researcher Reynol Junco said in a statement.

For the study, Junco surveyed more than 1,600 college students about their Facebook behavior, looking at time spent strictly using the social networking site and time spent on Facebook while multitasking.

Freshman averaged a total of two hours a day on Facebook. 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 (GPA) 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.

Although it would be easy to conclude that simply spending less time on Facebook would improve a student's GPA, 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.

"Students use social media 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 academic success," he added.

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. 

The findings are detailed in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology.

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