Students who use social networking sites don't seem to suffer academically, according to research out of Northwestern University. In a recent paper titled "Predictors and consequences of differentiated practices on social network sites," researchers found that heavy use of sites like Facebook and MySpace doesn't affect college students' grade point averages. In fact, it's the usual suspects such as gender, ethnic background, and parental education that appear to have more of a determining factor in GPA than any kind of Facebook addiction.
According to the researchers' data, female students tend to have higher grades than male ones, and white students have higher grades than non-Hispanic African-American students. Students whose parents have college degrees have higher GPAs than those whose parents only have a high school diploma or lower.
The researchers then added in data about overall Internet use and social networking use, and found that there were no significant differences. "The most prevalent findings... are the persisting differences between respondents with different demographic backgrounds," reads the paper.
Indeed, Internet and social network use didn't affect the difference in GPAs between male and female or white and African American students. However, social network use did eliminate the difference in GPAs between students whose parents had differing levels of higher education. In fact, when controlling for certain demographics, the researchers found a positive relationship between Internet use and GPA.
"The positive relationship between web-use skills and GPA may illustrate that students who have better online skills can draw on their Internet savvy to aid in their schoolwork," wrote the researchers. "[E]ngaging more intensely with [social networking sites], in particular, shows no relationship to our outcome variable of academic achievement."
The researchers do acknowledge that students are perfectly capable of distracting themselves from their schoolwork and wasting time online. However, the positive effects seem to outweigh the negative ones for some students, or at least cancel each other out for others. So, the next time your mom accuses you of spending more time online than on your freshman projects, tell her you're just connecting with your peers for better project collaboration.
By Jacqui Cheng
Information, Communication & Society, 2010. DOI: 10.1080/13691181003639866 (About DOIs).