Home Science Communication Cause and effect – Does Facebook make you stupid?

Cause and effect – Does Facebook make you stupid?

by Eva Amsen

I was on Facebook today, and yesterday, and the day before, and saw that several people on there linked to the study about Facebook users getting lower grades in college. The headline of this particular article is actually quite neutral, “Facebook Users Get Worse Grades in College”, but it does tend to pave the way for “Facebook makes you stupid” comments. That’s not what the study shows, though. It can’t show cause and effect, just correlation. Several years ago, a similar study might have shown a correlation between time spent watching TV and grades, just because the people who refuse to study need to do something with all their free time.

One of the paper’s authors says a similar thing:

  “I’m just saying that there’s some kind of relationship there, and there’s many third variables that need to be studied,” said Aryn Karpinski, an education researcher at Ohio State University.

There are many variables.

The study also showed that students who work more hours at jobs are on Facebook less. Well, yes, they are simply away from the computer more. And students with more extracurricular activities spent more time on Facebook. Again, that’s not surprising. Many extracurricular groups congregate on Facebook and use the site to advertise events. Facebook is part of the day to day administration for many student groups. Even my non-student orchestra has a Facebook group and uses that to announce upcoming concerts.

And then there are the people who go on Facebook to fill out fifty “What Painting/Food/Author/Actor/Book/Animal are you?” quizzes in a row. If they do that instead of studying, then, yeah, that will probably affect their grades. But as someone who spends time on Facebook and has always had at least 5 simultaneous extracurricular activities all through university and STILL ended up top of my undergraduate graduating class, I don’t think Facebook causes low grades. It’s hard to prove cause and effect – you’d need to find students who are not yet on Facebook, monitor their grades, force them to join the site and spend time there, and then see what happens to their grades. I say nothing.

cause and effect


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Eva Amsen April 15, 2009 - 8:52 PM

I wrote this and now I’m hungry. Blogging makes you hungry.

Frank Norman April 15, 2009 - 9:14 PM

Eva – this sort of reporting used to annoy me a lot. You just know that anything about Facebook is going to be picked on to find the most negative angle. The same used to be true of the Internet, and just about every flavour of digital tool in the last 20 years. I’ve got used to it and just try to ignore it now.
Like the cartoon, BTW!

Eva Amsen April 15, 2009 - 9:55 PM

The cartoon is from “here”:http://xkcd.com/552/
I should have linked it in the post, but I was in a hurry. And hungry.

Craig Rowell April 15, 2009 - 10:06 PM

I want to know how we are going to force non-users to join and use Facebook without the threat that causes them to join having an influence on their grades? Maybe they could take a class on using Facebook and that would be a way to get them to use it and not alter their study habits? It could be modeled on this “class”:http://facebookforparents.org/class.html at Stanford.

Kristi Vogel April 15, 2009 - 10:54 PM

_Maybe they could take a class on using Facebook_
I’d rather die slowly after having double-pointed bamboo knitting needles shoved through my foramen magnum and into my brainstem reticular formation nuclei.

Henry Gee April 15, 2009 - 11:01 PM

@ Kristi – can you get _directly_ to the brainstem reticular formation nuclei through the foramen magnum, a. k. a. the most powerful handgun you can buy? In my day you had to change at Willesden Junction.
@ Eva – science has proved in an extensive survey that death is fatal in all known cases. If Dr Obvious is reading this, he’d no doubt be interested to learn, in addition, of an enormous demographic study that consumed $$$ of federal funds which showed that the first-born child in any family is almost always the eldest.

Cath Ennis April 15, 2009 - 11:35 PM

@Blogging makes you hungry@
Commenting makes you need a cup of tea

Kristi Vogel April 15, 2009 - 11:45 PM

_In my day you had to change at Willesden Junction_
Are you sure you don’t mean the Pontomedullary Junction?
Which is somewhere near the south coast of Wales, IIRC.

Sabine Hossenfelder April 16, 2009 - 12:10 AM

“Does using Facebook at work make better employees?”:http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20090402.wgtyoutube0402/BNStory/Technology/?page=rss&id=RTGAM.20090402.wgtyoutube0402
“The University of Melbourne study showed that people who use the Internet for personal reasons at work are about 9 per cent more productive that those who do not.”
I’m all in favor of confirmation bias 🙂

Richard Wintle April 16, 2009 - 12:27 AM

How about people who spend hours on _Nature Network_? Are they more likely to have advanced University degrees?
Also, I’m with Kristi on this one. Stab me in the Amygdala now, please.

Eva Amsen April 16, 2009 - 12:40 AM

Ha, Sabine, clearly _that_ study is causal =P
Everyone else, uhm, I know very little about neuroanatomy, so I hope these are funny comments.
Cath, “Ian has tea”:http://network.nature.com/people/im_brooks/blog/2009/04/15/is-elsevier-teh-win over at his blog. Oh, never mind, you found that…

Maria Jose Navarrete-Talloni April 16, 2009 - 6:58 AM

Funny, but there are plenty biased studies out there, like:
_”Win a Nobel Prize: According to a study from University of Warwick in England, winners of the Nobel Prize in chemistry or physics live about a 1.4 years longer than those scientists who are simply nominated for the prestigious award”._
More “here”:http://www.cleveland.com/pdq/index.ssf/2009/04/pets_wine_and_healthy_teeth_mi.html

Jennifer Rohn April 16, 2009 - 8:36 AM

Facebook sucks time in a way that other leisure activities don’t – I wouldn’t be surprised if it kept students from revising adequately.

Kristi Vogel April 16, 2009 - 10:29 AM

@ Eva: “Funny” is in the limbic system of the beholder. 😉 I found the link that Craig provided to be rather creepy, especially when I followed it further to find the “Persuasive Technology Laboratory”:http://captology.stanford.edu/ page. Captology?!?

Richard Wintle April 16, 2009 - 4:49 PM

Was Craig’s Link on Craig’s List?

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