— Does the "F" in Facebook stand for an "F" in school? A new study says that college students who are on Facebook while studying or doing homework wind up getting 20 percent lower grades than students who don't have the social networking site in visual range, or even running in the background on their computers or mobile phones.
The study, reported in the Daily Mail of Britain, was done by Netherlands psychologist Paul A. Kirschnera of the Centre for Learning Sciences and Technologies at the Open University of the Netherlands, and Aryn C. Karpinskib of Ohio State University. It will be published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.
Kirschnera told the Daily Mail that his team studied 219 U.S. university students between ages 19 and 54, and found that Facebook users had a typical grade point average of 3.06, while "non-users" had an average GPA of 3.82.
The psychologist said the study wasn't about whether Facebook's good or bad, but goes more to the stereotype that younger people are fluid multi-taskers —sending text message, listening to music, reading a book, all at the same time, for example — without any problems. (Driving and texting at the same time is, of course, being the among the most dangerous multi-tasking activities anyone can do.)
"The problem is that most people have Facebook or other social networking sites, their e-mails and maybe instant messaging constantly running in the background while they are carrying out other tasks," Kirschnera told the newspaper.
"Our study, and other previous work, suggests that while people may think constant task-switching allows them to get more done in less time, the reality is it extends the amount of time needed to carry out tasks and leads to more mistakes.
"We should resist the fashionable views of educational gurus that children can multi-task, and that we should adapt our education systems accordingly to keep up with the times."
Among the comments to the story was this one, from "I'moverhere" in Britain: "Believe me, if it isn't Facebook, it's something else. There's always something ready to distract a bored mind. While you're at it why not do a similar survey relating to consoles, television, texting, radio, football practice and staring into space?
"Having said that, Facebook does take up a lot of time due to society's increasing dependence on computers for education. Even in 2004 when I was doing A levels, I would get information from a book rather than Wikipedia. This instant-satisfaction-minimum-effort society has a lot to answer for."