Ohio State University doctoral student and researcher Aryn Karpinski announced a study today indicating that students who use Facebook also have lower GPA scores and study less. The study got picked up by traditional news media sites like UPI and Fox News. A lot of the media reports (including Fox News’) opportunistically called Facebook the culprit, which we believe the study doesn’t seem to prove conclusively at all.

According to the study, of the 219 students surveyed, the 148 who use Facebook are scoring on average a full grade point lower than their non-Facebook peers. Facebook-using participants also admit to a much lower average number of weekly study hours, 1 to 5 hours a week compared to 11 to 15 for the higher-scoring bunch. The study is quick to admit that there is no direct causal link between Facebook use and lower grades, and it did go on to state that 79% of the students who used Facebook claimed it did not impact their grades.

The news coverage of this study seem to make the assumption that generally, Facebook was at least partially (or even in the case of Yahoo! News, completely) responsible for the students’ scores being lower. But it seems to me that there are too many outside factors that aren’t being accounted for to make a causal link with Facebook in this case. First, the student themselves denied Facebook use was causing their bad study habits and lower test scores. It makes just as much sense to say those students are looking for distractions from their studies, and socializing is certainly a popular student pastime, whether it be in person or on Facebook.

It was noted that undergraduate students and students who participated in extra-curricular activities were both more likely to use Facebook and have a lower GPA. If there is a connection with Facebook use, I think it would be more reasonable to say that these students would be distracted by online socialization whether Facebook existed or not. This is also a theory that was put forth by Aryn in the report:

“It may be that if it wasn’t for Facebook, some students would still find other ways to avoid studying, and would still get lower grades.  But perhaps the lower GPAs could actually be because students are spending too much time socializing online.”

As long as everyone is guessing what the data in this report really means, you might want to read up on the term continuous partial attention, the state in which you multitask, but are motivated by a desire not to miss anything. More studies have proven that people who multitask (think texting on a phone while driving) already end up doing each of the tasks worse, and if you include the willingness to be continuously distracted by online goings-on, it could definitely mean that critical scholastic skills such as rote memory and concentration are noticeably affected.