Despite specializing in a relatively unrelated field of quantitative analysis, Karpinski was inspired to investigate the effects of the social networking site Facebook on the performance of college students.
Karpinski analyzed extensive surveys of both a quantitative and qualitative nature from over 200 Ohio State students. Her data suggested a correlation between Facebook usage and lower GPAs among college students at Ohio State University.
“Although this study has investigated an area totally outside of my realm of specialization, I was greatly intrigued by the interplay of Facebook and academics,” she said.
Recently, many news sources have cited Karpinski’s findings when making the claim that Facebook itself is a cause of lower academic performance. But Karpinski’s data only demonstrates correlation, not causation.
Kevin Lewis, who is a Ph.D. Candidate in the sociology department at Harvard and has studied Facebook interactions, wrote in an e-mail statement, “What this study tells us is that there is an association between being a member of Facebook and having a lower GPA; it tells us virtually nothing else.”
Karpinski also acknowledged that her study does not reach a definite conclusion.
“I totally acknowledge the limitations of this study,” she said. “It is meant to be an investigation into the association of Facebook usage and academics and admittedly does not reach a definitive conclusion on the topic.”
Karpinski intends to continue investigating the intriguing association between the Facebook frenzy and academic performance.
But Lewis noted that this is a difficult topic to address.
“These questions are at once too simple and too unwieldy—they make for great dinner-table conversation and theoretical speculation, but virtually any attempt to talk confidently and generally about these types of mechanism is begging for trouble,” he wrote.