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Does Facebook Lower Academic Performance? It’s Still Too Soon to Say

A researcher at Ohio State University found that students who use Facebook reported earning lower grade-point averages than nonusers of the social-networking service. But the researcher, Aryn C. Karpinski, said in an interview with The Chronicle that she does not have enough data to determine whether Facebook use causes students to do poorly in their studies, despite a string of media reports that she says overstate her findings.

Ms. Karpinski, a doctoral student in the university’s college of education, surveyed 102 undergraduates and 117 graduate students at Ohio State last summer and fall. She said that Facebook users reported GPA’s in the 3.0-to-3.5 range, while nonusers reported GPA’s between 3.5 and 4.0. And she found that nonusers reported spending more time studying than did Facebook users.

Other researchers were quick to question her findings — including Eszter Hargittai, an associate professor of communication studies at Northwestern University, in a post to the blog Crooked Timber. She warned against jumping to conclusions in survey research — the classic reminder that correlation does not imply causation. And she said that in her own study in 2007 of more than 1,000 first-year students at the University of Illinois at Chicago, she found no correlation between Facebook use and student grades.

Ms. Karpinski asserts that she never argued that Facebook is causing poor academic performance — just that she found a connection and that more should be done to study the matter. She points out that the title of her research paper is far from sensational: “A Description of Facebook Use and Academic Performance Among Undergraduate and Graduate Students.” She plans to present her findings on Thursday at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. “I completely acknowledge the limitations of my research,” she said. “What I found is so exploratory — people need to chill out.”

She said that she has seen conflicting studies on the topic and that the question is far from settled. “Once people start doing more and more research in this area, we’ll see a pattern develop,” she said. “Until then, we’ll have to take everybody’s different study at face value “ —Jeffrey R. Young

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