New look at Facebook and grades

News last month of an unpublished study suggesting that Facebook use is related to lower college academic achievement probably sent more than a few parents reeling. Now a new study may allay those concerns.

Attempts by researchers to replicate the results of the widely publicized preliminary Ohio State University study failed to find a robust relationship between use of the popular social networking site and diminished grades.

“We found no evidence that Facebook use correlates with lower academic achievement,” said Eszter Hargittai, associate professor of communication studies at Northwestern University and a fellow this year at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

Hargittai is co-author of “Facebook and Academic Performance: Reconciling a Media Sensation with Data” with Josh Pasek, a doctoral student at Stanford University, and eian more of the University of Pennsylvania’s Adolescent Risk Communication Institute. The study appears in the online journal First Monday.

The researchers used relevant information from three existing data sets — a sample of more than 1,000 undergraduates from the University of Illinois, Chicago; a nationally representative cross sectional sample of 14- to 22-year-olds; and a nationally representative longitudinal panel of American youth aged 14- to 23. They were unable to detect a significant negative relationship between grade point averages and Facebook use.

“I suspect that basic Facebook use — what these studies measure — simply doesn’t have generalizable consequences for grades,” said Hargittai, whose research explores the social and policy implications of the Web. According to the study, the doubts about the use of social networking sites vis-à-vis students are reminiscent of those cast on earlier new media, including TV and motion pictures, and their effect on children.

“The Internet and social networking sites in particular can be used in many ways, some of which may be beneficial to the user and others less so. More important than whether people use these sites is what they do on them,” said Hargittai. “Cultivating relationships, for example, can lead to positive outcomes.”

That is not to say that Facebook use can never have deleterious effects on academic performance.

“If students are spending excessive time on Facebook at the expense of studying, their academic performance may suffer, just as it might by spending excessive time on another activity,” Hargittai said. ” We need more research with more nuanced data to better understand how social networking site usage may relate to academic performance.”

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