Social Media Users Score Lower on Tests, Study Finds

Published August 25, 2016

A study examining the test scores of thousands of 15-year-old students found those who play online video games perform better than average in math, reading, and science, and those who use social media have worse-than-average scores.

The study, titled “Internet Usage and Educational Outcomes Among 15-Year-Old Australian Students,” was authored by Alberto Posso of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia and published in August in the International Journal of Communication. It examined scores of 12,000 Australian students on the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

According to PISA’s conductor, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, PISA is an “international survey which aims to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students.” Education Week reports in addition to measuring students’ knowledge and application of math, reading, and science, “Students also answer survey questions about a variety of topics, including their internet use.”

Posso’s study found students who played video games almost every day scored 15 points above average in math and reading and 17 points above average in science.

“Children who regularly use online social networks, such as Facebook, tend to obtain lower scores in math, reading, and science than students who never or hardly ever use these sites,” the study found, reporting students who used social media daily scored, on average, 20 percentage points lower in math than those who reported not using social media at all.

Causation vs. Correlation

Ze’ev Wurman, a senior fellow with the American Principles Project and a former U.S. Department of Education official under President George W. Bush, says it’s likely kids who play online games are also better at math. 

“Kids attracted to computer games are probably also somewhat more likely to enjoy math and science and be boys,” Wurman said. “The fact that the effect flattens quickly—kids who play every day don’t do as well as those who play almost every day—also points to the fact that game playing in itself doesn’t contribute, but rather that game-playing correlates with the population interested in math and science.”

Wurman says results of studies on educational technology have shown very mixed results, and the issue is “truly complex.”

Not all technology is valuable to education, Wurman says.

“Some forms [of technology] may turn out to be helpful, but some probably will not,” said Wurman. “[Some] will do harm because of wasted time. We really could benefit from having a clearer understanding of what type of tech is effective and under what conditions, but simply using broad categories like ‘computer games’ versus ‘social media’ is not very discerning or helpful.”

‘Adolescent Interests’ Locked In

Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University and author of The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future, says social media immerses young people in juvenile language and juvenile thought processes.

“Text messages, Facebook, Twitter—these communications are social,” Bauerlein said. “You are writing to your peers and looking at material from your peers. Social media locks you into the adolescent interests of adolescents.

“When I was young, pretty much the only youth language I encountered was when I was talking with my buddies,” Bauerlein said. “You had to listen to adult speech then. I couldn’t sit in the backseat of the car and chat with my friends. I had to listen to my parents. Social media has immersed adolescents in adolescent language and pictures.”

Jenni White ([email protected]writes from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Internet Info:

Alberto Posse, “Internet Usage and Educational Outcomes Among 15-Year-Old Australian Students,” International Journal of Communication, August 2016: