Social Media and School Achievement

Based on Marker, Gnambs, & Appel, 2018, Educational Psychology Review

The link between using social media and school grades

Different theoretical approaches have been used to link social media use and school grades

  1. From a time displacement perspective1; 2; 3 the time spent with SNSs is unavailable for supposedly more desirable behavior (such as learning or physical activities) that would have otherwise occurred. Based on this line of thinking, the time invested in using Facebook or Instagram must be traded off against time spent on other activities. SNS activities therefore impair academic achievement by reducing the time spent for knowledge acquisition such as the time for preparation for school and homework.4 From this perspective, SNS activities are conceptually similar to other pastime activities such as watching TV or playing sports. Findings on the relationship between intensive use of SNSs (e.g., time spent, frequency of logins) and the time spent for studying have been ambiguous, however. Whereas some scholars found a negative association5, others’ findings were mixed.6; 7 Thus, despite the intuitive appeal of the time displacement hypothesis to much related evidence is contested.
  2. A second perspective suggesting a negative link between SNS use and school success is theory and research on multitasking, that is, the use of SNSs while other activities take place. Of particular relevance to school success are SNS activities that occur during knowledge acquisition such as instruction at school, homework, or studying. From this perspective, the emphasis is less on social media replacing the time spent for preparation and study (time displacement), rather, concurrent SNS activities are assumed to decrease the effectiveness of studying. SNSs distract by providing the affordance to check messages or news, and to communicate, which reduces the situational working memory capacity that can be used for the primary task at hand.8; 9
  3. Moreover, scholars have argued that SNS behaviors likely reduce the quality and quantity of sleep.10 Cross-sectional data of young adults revealed an association between the duration and frequency of SNS use and sleep disturbance.11 Participants in the highest quartile of daily SNS activities (vs. participants in the lowest quartile) were about twice as likely to self-report sleep disturbances. Sleep, in turn, is a well-established predictor of scholastic achievement.12 SNS activities were related to increases in stress13, which would negatively affect sleep14, and stress is likely a direct predictor of impairments on demanding cognitive activities at home or at school.15

  4. However, there could as well be a positive association between SNSs activities and academic achievement. SNSs have been linked to social capital16; 17, that is, a network of relationships between people that is used as a support for the achievement of individual or collective goals.18 Higher social capital is associated with greater academic achievement.19 Engaging in SNSs can be a means to create a network that provides information and support and thus leads to positive academic outcomes.20; 21

Our meta-analyses

Depending on the theoretical perspective taken, the association between academic achievement and SNS activities could be negative or positive. These contradicting theoretical accounts are also reflected in the available research findings on the academic consequences of SNS use. Empirical research provided evidence for negative6 as well as positive22 and no associations23.

In our meta-analytical investigation24 we distinguished between three aspects of SNS use, general SNS use (such as time spent per day; frequency of posting with unspecified content), SNS use related to multitasking (e.g., using SNSs while studying), and SNS use connected to preparation and learning for school (e.g., using SNSs to communicate about school-related topics). Based on these three groups of activities, three separate meta-analyses were conducted. A fourth analysis examined the influence of SNS use on the time spent on studying (time displacement hypothesis).

We identified 50 publications reporting on 59 independent samples. Of these publications, 46 were included in the meta-analysis on general SNS use (55 samples), eight publications were included in the meta-analysis on multitasking SNS use (15 samples), and nine publications (ten samples) were included in the meta-analysis on using SNS use for academic purposes. In the included studies students typically answered questions about their use of SNSs with the help of paper-and-pencil questionnaires or through online surveys. In around two-thirds of the studies the students further reported on their academic success, with the large majority of surveys asking for GPA. In one third of the studies grades were obtained from school records.


General SNS use and school achievement

The average association between achievement and general SNS use amounted to ρ̂ = −.07 indicating that overall SNS use was significantly, but weakly, associated with lower academic achievement. However, albeit significant, the respective correlation was rather small, following Cohen’s25 often-cited framework for interpreting effect sizes. Similar, in Hattie’s26 highly cited summary of meta-analyses on influences related to student achievement, effects up to r = .10 were well-below the average effect (r = .20) and were considered negligible, not worth wasting educators’ time.

Multitasking SNS use and academic achievement.

Our meta-analytic assessment of the association between school grades and multitasking SNS activities showed an association in the negative direction (ρ̂ = −.10). In line with prior theory27, using SNSs for non-academic purposes at times of preparation and learning is related to lower school grades.

School-related SNS use and academic achievement.

We identified a positive relationship between school-related SNS use and academic achievement (ρ̂ = .08). The more active students are in school-related SNS activities the better are their grades.

General SNS use and the time spent for studying

The average relationship between general SNS use and study time over ten independent samples was not statistically significant ρ̂ = -.03. General SNSs use is not associated with study time.

Visualization of effect sizes

The more time is spent with social media for academic purposes, the higher are the grades, ρ̂ = .08. However, this relationship is small.

Social media use for academic purposes and grades

The more time is spent with social media, the lower are the grades, ρ̂ = -.07. However, this relationship is small.

General social media use and grades

The more time is spent multitasking with social media, the lower are the grades, ρ̂ = -.10 However, this relationship is small.

Multitasking SNS use and grades

Time spent studying is not related to time spent with social media, ρ̂ = -.03.

SNS use and time spent studying

To compare: The relationship between intelligence and academic achievement is larger, ρ̂ = .54. 28

Intelligence and grades


We conducted four meta-analyses on the relationship between SNS use and academic achievement. Our work underscores the notion that SNS use is positively associated with academic achievement as long as SNS use is school-related. This is in contrast to fears of many parents and teachers that the influence of SNS is inevitable detrimental for academic achievement. SNS use unrelated to school, however, was associated with poorer academic achievement. However, all correlations identified in these meta-analyses were rather weak, only a small part of students’ achievement at school and university co-varied with SNS use. A meta-analytic investigation of the time displacement hypothesis found no support for the assumption that the intensity of social media activities is associated with less time spent for studying. Despite the proliferation of SNSs in societies around the world, social networking activities appear to be only weakly related to academic achievement.


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