Rutgers study shows Internet use can disrupt college student performance

May 21, 2001

NEW BRUNSWICK/PISCATAWAY, N.J. - Research conducted at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, demonstrates that some college students are performing poorly because of too much time, especially late night hours, spent on the Internet.

The findings are reported in an article, "Internet Use and Collegiate Academic Performance Decrements: Early Findings" by Robert Kubey, Michael Lavin, and John Barrows, in the June issue of the Journal of Communication. Kubey, a developmental psychologist, is an associate professor of journalism and media studies at Rutgers and directs the university's Center for Media Studies. Lavin is a professor of psychology at St. Bonaventure University in southwestern New York state and John Barrows is director of communications with Parsippany-based RCI, LLC.

"Although the great majority of 570 undergraduate students sampled do not report Internet-related problems, a small but significant group of about 10-15 percent do report feeling that they are not in complete control of their Internet use, and that it has hurt their schoolwork," said Kubey.

Students who reported Internet-caused schoolwork problems were found to have spent five times more hours online than those who do not, and they were also significantly more likely to report that their Internet use caused them to stay up late at night, get less sleep, and miss class.

Schools such as the University of Maryland, University of Washington, University of Texas at Austin and Marquette University, as well as universities in Singapore and Taiwan, have also reported that overuse of the Internet is neither an unusual nor an isolated problem among their student bodies.

"Impairment of scholastic performance due to the Internet is highest among first-year students," said Kubey. "Many students are away from home for the first extended period in their lives and adjustment to college life is often a struggle, particularly making new friends. First-year students are particularly likely to use the Internet to remain in contact with their high school friends."

The authors conclude that it is not so much the Internet that causes these problems as the new social opportunities and other activities that the Internet makes possible. The students who reported academic problems were more likely to use the Internet for real-time social activities such as instant messaging and chat rooms. It appears that these real-time social uses are what really hold students to the screen, especially late at night, and this is consistent with the adjustment-related interpretation of the authors.

The authors note that colleges and universities pride themselves on the percentage of students who have ready access to computers, or have them in their dorm rooms, but for some students the Internet and World Wide Web can pose a problem. They suggest that those in higher education continue to encourage the Internet's great usefulness, but that they must not ignore the potential for problems and abuse either.

A number of universities, the same group noted earlier, have already begun to focus parts of their counseling or student health services on what they perceive to be an increase in Internet-related problems.
-end-
EDITOR'S NOTE: Professor Kubey may be reached for interviews at (732) 932-7915, or by e-mail at kubey@scils.rutgers.edu

Rutgers University

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