Quack Science

Science and the giant rubber duck… He's watching..

In defence of Facebook


“Da-dum”. We all know that sound… That is the sound of your concentration being broken. Your ears pick up. You flick screens, that little red blip on a blue background means something is up on the blogosphere. Evenings are wasted, essays are left undone, and you wake up in the morning with nothing to show but a headache and a blue haze on the computer screen. We all know what I’m talking about… Facebook addiction.

With more than 1.1 billion users, it seems just about everyone has Facebook these days. Students in particular love Facebook; it helps us keep in touch with friends, parents and it keeps us involved with student societies. Yet despite everything it does for our social life; it has a darker side: it seems to be just about the best thing around at keeping us from doing work…

Studies on student social media usage have linked Facebook use to higher levels of procrastination, fewer hours studying and even lower grade averages. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise, we all know someone who goes through the bi-monthly ritual of deleting their Facebook account to get more work done. But the question is does Facebook really make us procrastinate? Or is Facebook just an easy scapegoat for those who would have been wasting time anyway? Well actually, current research suggests that our relationship with Facebook is more complicated than what it might first appear.

It turns out there is a lot you can tell about someone just from whether or not they are on Facebook. Studies in the US suggest have suggested that certain personality types are more likely to use Facebook.  Facebook users tend to be more outgoing with higher verbal, memory and spelling skills. They are also more likely to be members of societies, and spend more time socialising, whereas non-users are more likely to have part-time jobs, and probably less likely to spend their evenings in night clubs getting ‘messy’. This could mean that it is actually the personality and increased social life of Facebook users which is to blame for the procrastination and lower grades, rather than Facebook use itself.

On the other hand, while personality has been associated with Facebook use, the research has its limitations; they mainly focus on students in the US, and only make use of certain groups of students. While Facebook has not been directly shown to cause problems with procrastination, there is evidence to say that certain activities typical to social media use (IM chat, multitasking) are linked to decreased academic performance. That means keeping Facebook open while working is a big no-no!

Facebook is probably not a direct cause of procrastination. It would seem as though underlying personality traits interact in different ways to affect how and why we procrastinate, but whether Facebook increases that, more research has to be done to really find out. So while I would give a cautious nod to using Facebook, it really depends on how and when you use it; 3am IM chat sessions before a 9am lecture really aren’t going to help anyone! What is clear is that Facebook affects students and their social lives in complex ways, so next time someone tells you they are getting rid of Facebook to focus on uni; tell them it’s more complicated than that!

Andrew Jonathan Balmer

Image credit: Facebook/Las Vegas Review Journal


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