Your Brain on Facebook

If surfing the web increases workplace productivity, what does spending time on Facebook do to college students? According to a study by Aryn Karpinski and Adam Duberstein, college students who use Facebook have lower GPA’s and devote less time to studying than other students. While the study didn’t prove causality — do low-GPA, anti-study students self-select into Facebook? — could this be early evidence of a Facebook Brain Drain? [%comments]


sara

I also have to wonder who that group of non-facebook students is, to be honest. At this point, pretty much EVERYONE I know is on facebook. There are a few holdouts, but I would have to guess those who continue to refuse to use facebook are:
a) highly motivated and principled (and thus able to withstand very heavy peer pressure to join)--and that might be correlated with high GPA
b) don't have any friends (and thus can spend all their time studying)
I guess I just have to wonder how big that non-facebook control group is and whether there is something peculiar about them, rather than this being an overall facebook effect. Then again, maybe facebook usage is different in different areas (though the sense that not being on facebook is an outlier position has held constant over my last year of undergrad, my first three years of grad school (where I am still), and non-school friends from church, etc. who either still are undergrads or went to college).

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JeremyN

I don't see there being a causal relationship. I believe its that students who are easily distracted flock to Facebook as the new thing to be distracted with.

Jesse

Or it could just be correlation...ie, students who don't use FB are smarter to begin with. Also, given how universal facebook is, a student who doesn't use it is probably often going to be some weird social outcast type who is going to have a lot of study time on their hands.

Annie

I'm not convinced by this study, particularly given that the researchers' independent variable was whether or not the students had facebook accounts. Such a high percentage of students have the accounts that not having one really says something about a student's personality (i.e. you are already probably an introverted person if you dont' have one.) I think a more interesting study would look at the average hours on facebook a week in comparison with student GPAs. There are plenty of people who have facebook profiles and look at them once a week.

Ryan

I agree with the other comments - who in the world isn't using facebook? It definitely says something about someone now if they aren't on. They either are computer illiterate, old, or a social outcast. They need to do a study about average time per day or use of external applications and how they correlate with GPA.

AR

According to the article, almost 80% of the students in the non-Facebook-using group were graduate students. Usually, students in graduate school have self-selected to be a group of very bright, dedicated students who tend to have high gpas regardless, this was not very convincing. This could easily have skewed the results in favor of non-Facebook-users.

Not to mention the fact that the study polled only 200 or so students.

Andrew

Just a hunch, but I'm guessing the study might have attributed "heavy usage" of Facebook to the lower GPA's, rather than just students with FB accounts. It would be similar to studies about GPA's v. heavy video gamers in the 90's.

(I'm too busy looking through Facebook photos to actually read the study, so I'm not sure.)

Bill

The real question is hours of use on facebook vs. GPA.

The very few students who do not use facebook most likely actively avoid it because it is distracting to them, thus spending more time studying.

aaron

It simply means the value of grades has fallen to a level that can't compete with something as silly as facebook.

Brent

Facebook is just another excuse for students who don't want to study. What would be interesting to see:

What differences in content on their facebook profiles exist between students with higher GPA relative to students with lower GPA? Seems to me you might find some intriguing differences. Facebook can be a great way for normal people to keep track of their friends, but it can also be a great way for web trolls and lazy people to burn hours and hours of time fiddling around on their own and their friends profiles.

Grant

I've become a pretty heavy facebook user this semester, so we'll see how that plays out in my grades, I suppose.

Then again with grade inflation, I doubt it'll be too much of an issue. My master's program has no incentive to damage its PhD acceptance stats by being hard on students.

Allison

I agree with JeremyN. Those who are easily distracted will always find something to be distracted with, Facebook or not.
I got a Facebook account the middle of my junior year of college, and my average GPA my last two years was much higher than during my first two years. I obviously don't think my higher GPA was because I was on Facebook, but rather due to more maturity and better study skills. But my Facebook account clearly didn't harm my GPA.

GAC

Ars Technica did a good debunking of the media hype on this here: http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2009/04/social-media-slammed-by-science-reporting-not-science.ars

Suffice it to say that the study shows a correlation, but no definitive causation, and it was a small sample. Both this and the "Twitter makes you immoral" story (where the original study didn't even mention Twitter specifically) were the result of bad science reporting that can often come out before actual experts can get at the original study.

Josh

Do people who comment on blogs tend not to read the blog postings carefully? It's a short paragraph ending with the line:

"While the study didn't prove causality - do low-GPA, anti-study students self-select into Facebook?"

Please stop twittering on about how you disagree with the post or the study because correlation does not imply causality.

Man, I must be grumpy today otherwise I wouldn't be posting, I'd just complain to my co-workers who are all checking their facebook accounts.

ktb

Uh, surely it's occured to folks that the a lot of the student getting the highest grades are either too busy to be socially active looking at pictures of their drunk friends at the party they weren't able to attend since they were studying (aka premed) or are in that group of intellegent students who really aren't that socially integrated with a normal crowd and weren't invited to said party (aka engineers- and I am an electrical engineer).

tracy

I know a guy who just graduated with a degree in Electrical Engineering who doesn't have a Facebook account. His reason runs somewhere along the lines of "if we were really friends, we wouldn't need facebook." He wasn't nerdy at all, pretty chill.

Al

I'd estimate 95% of my medical school class is on facebook, so where do all these brilliant facebook-boycotters end up?

Adam

Wow! I can't believe that we are mentioned on the Freakonomics Blog within the New York Times! That is incredible in and of itself. Thank you, and thanks to all of you who have taken the time to comment on this study.

I would like to say that this study is a simple, correlational one. Hopefully, we can soon look at how Facebook can be used as a learning tool. I think that will certainly yield some interesting findings!

Peace,
Adam

Laura

If it weren't for facebook, students in my Ph.D. program (myself included) would have no friends outside of graduate school. Or, if we had friends, they would think we were dead, because they wouldn't have seen us in months. Facebook reminds me that there is a world outside academia. Thank God.

Richard

The group sizes are surprisingly balanced. Out of 219 students (grad and undergrad) only 148 had accounts. I'm quite surprised.

Speaking of possibly smaller sample groups, I'm one of I'm sure a dozen students in the US without a cell phone. I'd like to see a similar study on cell phone use and why I'm so much smarter than my 50 million counterparts.