Loneliness, Facebook use, and college adjustment

The first year in college can be hard- moving to a new place, meeting new people, being away from family can really affect one’s social adjustment. Social adjustment, in turn, can affect academic motivation, and ultimately, academic performance. This new study in Computers and Education (here is a version of the article before proofreading– there are some typos, but the content is essentially all there) examines the relationship between loneliness, different aspects of Facebook use, and college adjustment of first-year college students. These are all complex relationships, and the study tries to unpack questions like: Are lonely people going to use Facebook more? How does Facebook affect college adjustment? These questions were answered by surveying first-year college students before they entered college and right after their first semester.

Here are some bullet points on the findings:

  • Time spent on Facebook did not explain loneliness. There was no significant relationship between time spent on Facebook and loneliness either before entering college or at the end of the first semester. Lonely people before the semester started were still likely to be lonely at the end of the semester, but they were not likely to spend more time on Facebook. Likewise, spending time on Facebook had no relationship with being subsequently lonely.
  • The relationship between loneliness and number of Facebook Friends was curvilinear- which means that people who had more Facebook friends tended to have lower levels of loneliness, but then people who had way too many Facebook friends tended to have higher levels of loneliness. This is not a causal argument.
  • Too much time spent on Facebook is negatively related with one’s perception of academic performance, but the relationship is somewhat weak.
  • People who have higher self-regulation over their Facebook use are less likely to experience negative results regarding college adjustment.
  • Lonely people were less academically motivated. Motivation was the strongest variable related with perceived academic performance.

These results suggest that contrary to popular media hype surrounding the negative role of Facebook on academic performance, the negative effect of Facebook is miniscule. In fact, the effect of an individual’s level of loneliness was more strongly related with all dimensions of college adjustment than any factor related to Facebook. From a clinical standpoint, these results could mean that identifying these students before they enter college and providing a more active form of clinical or social intervention could potentially help students with their college adjustment because spending time on Facebook isn’t really helping with their loneliness- at least during the first semester.

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