Multitasking, not Facebook, hurts freshman GPA

College freshmen average spending about two hours a day on Facebook—and for just over half that period, they're doing schoolwork at the same time. (Credit: Brian Smith/Flickr)

College freshmen who spend a lot of time on social media risk having a lower GPA, but the problem isn’t Facebook. It’s self-regulation.

For a new study, published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, researchers surveyed more than 1,600 college students about their Facebook behavior. They looked at time spent strictly using the social networking site and time spent on Facebook while multitasking.

College freshmen average a total of two hours a day—and for just over half that time, they’re also doing schoolwork.

Sophomores, juniors, and seniors also report using Facebook while studying, but how it affects their grade point average varies.

Facebook and studying

For freshmen, all Facebook use has a negative impact on their grades. For sophomores and juniors, only time spent using Facebook while doing schoolwork hurts their GPA. For seniors, there is no relationship between the two.

It would be easy to conclude that simply spending less time on Facebook would improve a student’s GPA, but the study warns against rushing to that conclusion. Certain tasks on Facebook, such as sharing links and checking in with friends, are positively linked to GPA.

Previous research shows that tasks, such as creating or RSVP-ing to an event, are positively linked to student engagement.

“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,” says Reynol Junco, associate professor of education at Iowa State University.

“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.”

Just another distraction

The negative relationship between Facebook use and GPA has little to do with Facebook, Junco says. Instead it is reflective of a broader issue, one that all students must confront when they go to college—self-regulation.

In that regard, Facebook use is no different than any other distraction for students.


“Freshmen have all of these adjustment issues. They come to college and they don’t know what to do, because they don’t have a parent or teacher telling them when to study, what to eat, or when to go to bed. They haven’t developed the self-regulation skills that they need.”

Most students will develop that skill throughout their college career. But higher education professionals can offer more assistance and teach students about responsible Facebook use, rather than telling them to completely abstain from social media. Parents and teachers could also do a better job of helping students develop better self-regulation in middle and high school.

There could be several explanations for the fact that seniors in the study used Facebook while studying, although for a shorter period of time, without seeing an effect on their grades—they may simply have learned how to better multitask.

Junco attributes the drop in seniors’ Facebook use to two factors. One, they have built a strong social network and rely less on social media to meet new people. And two, they are looking ahead to their future careers.

Source: Iowa State University