Facebook and academic performance: Reconciling a media sensation with data

I recall deciding not to blog about an unpublished study that reported a correlation between lower grades and higher Facebook usage, though I did make a mental note of how some of the coverage was confusing correlation with causation.

A recent draft manuscript suggested that Facebook use might be related to lower academic achievement in college and graduate school (Karpinski, 2009). The report quickly became a media sensation and was picked up by hundreds of news outlets in a matter of days. However, the results were based on correlational data in a draft manuscript that had not been published, or even considered for publication. This paper attempts to replicate the results reported in the press release using three data sets: one with a large sample of undergraduate students from the University of Illinois at Chicago, another with a nationally representative cross sectional sample of American 14- to 22-year-olds, as well as a longitudinal panel of American youth aged 14-23. In none of the samples do we find a robust negative relationship between Facebook use and grades. Indeed, if anything, Facebook use is more common among individuals with higher grades. We also examined how changes in academic performance in the nationally representative sample related to Facebook use and found that Facebook users were no different from non-users. — Pasek et al., First Monday