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Facebook, texting help first-year students connect IRL

Downside: Multitasking taking a slight hit on grades

As an RA at Wyview Park, Wade Jacobsen wondered whether the students he supervised spent more time with friends on Facebook than they did in-person.

His curiosity grew into a formal research project, and now Jacobsen knows exactly how first-year students spent their time during fall semester of 2008. A thousand students kept detailed time diaries for two weekdays and one weekend day.

Here are a few fun facts from the report Jacobsen published this week with Professor Renata Forste in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking:

  • The first-year students averaged 52 minutes per day on social networks such as Facebook.
  • On average, they sent between 11 and 20 text messages per day and spent 45 minutes texting or talking on a cell phone.
  • Most students had between 150 and 200 Facebook friends.

More significantly, Jacobsen’s analysis reveals that Facebook and cell phones facilitated face-to-face interactions for this group of students. Initially the researchers suspected that digital media would partially replace offline socializing. Instead they found that face time increased by 10 to 15 minutes for every hour spent with social media and cell phones.

“Unlike when the Internet was relatively new, the friends you have online now are the same set of friends you have in real life,” Jacobsen said. “The technology helps students get together and make plans.”

The fact that face time lives on among the “wired generation” is good news considering relationships improve our odds of survival.

But Jacobsen also sought to answer how academic performance is affected in this potentially distracting digital age. The 1,026 students who maintained time diaries later shared their grades with Jacobsen at semester’s end.

  • This group of BYU students studied much more each week than the national average for full-time college students in their first year.
  • Sixty-two percent of the students in the sample reported multitasking – defined as using non-academic digital media while in class, doing homework or studying.
  • Controlling for study time and other factors, GPA was reduced by .05 for each hour that a student averaged each day with digital media.

For reference, a .05 decline in semester GPA is like a student with a full credit load dropping from a B+ to a B in one class. The effect size was similar for each type of digital media they studied: social networks, cell phones, video games and movies. The researchers suspect that multitasking is behind the connection with grades.

“Other studies suggest that you really can’t multitask and expect to always maintain the same level of performance,” Forste said.

Professor Forste says that Jacobsen’s findings are methodologically sound and were deemed worthy of peer-reviewed publication. She also notes that the findings may not apply broadly because the study population – first-year students at BYU – is unique in many respects.

Full text of Jacobsen and Forste’s study is available here:


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Further research necessary
  11/5/2010 3:55 PM by Brian

Prof. Forste admits that BYU students don't follow the typical trends and this study may not apply broadly. Digital media is increasing important in this digital age. General Authorities have time and again warned us of the dangers of misusing new media, because it is easily misused. I would not be surprised if this study would show negative effects at most other universities. I may be optimistic, but I believe in the students of this university. We are good. Each individual needs to consider their personal usage of social networking and other media and strike the appropriate balance in their life. This study may show that BYU students are, on average, striking a good balance.

The study seems to be flawed...
  11/4/2010 7:12 PM by Alicia

Considering the students only kept a diary for 2 days a week and one weekend day seems to not be an accurate way to track their social life. Not to mention this was done in 2008 and facebook and texting have since skyrocketed. Another thing to consider is that it's not really accurate to compare BYU students and how they study more than the national average when we of course are going to study more with how competitive the school is and how the honor code is formed. We dont drink, we dont smoke, we're not at Raves. We have more time to study when you cut out all the garbage that other students are doing at other universities. While facebook may help to lead to other activities that are "face time", I dont think this method was very accurate in collecting information. Not to mention, I dont see how it was measured? was it a group of freshman who didnt have facebook vs freshman who did have facebook? Where is the starting and ending point?

When students see this posted on the front cover of the school's website, they aren't focused on reading the whole article, but just the misleading title. I think it's going to give students (all students, not just freshman) the false idea that their time spent on social networking sites are justified when we are repeatedly told by general authories how important the use of our bodies are. Elder Bednar gives an amazing talk on this type of subject and this study seems to try to contradict, saying that its good for us and our social life...

A better return
  11/4/2010 6:58 PM by Sean

I have a better investment for you. Go ahead and invest your 1 hour into a form of digital media, returning to you 10-15 minutes of additional face-time. I will invest my 1 hour into face-time, returning to me 60 minutes of additional face-time

At what cost?
  11/4/2010 6:48 PM by Sean

So is this really worth it, you gain 10-15 minutes more of face-time. Let us repeat at what expense. For every hour spent on digital media, you get an extra 10-15 minutes of face-time. Sounds like a return that I would not consider "profitable." I believe we should follow what the prophets say about digital media and not give too much heed to research done by man. I believe this research has many flaws. I believe this research is very dangerous to the youth who are coming to BYU. When they read this, they may feel justified in disregarding what the prophets say about media use. What are the consequences using more media? Less face-time for one, because the time you could be talking with a person, you choose to give to a machine. What happens when those freshman grow up and get married? Will it be that easy for them to "give up" their cyber addictions? What about when they really grow up and have children? Will it be easy then? I'll testify that more time spent in cyber-space and less in real-time increases the risk of becoming addicted. Then real-time suffers and when it all comes down to it, real-time is the only thing that matters.

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