New study on smartphone use and academic performance (spoiler: it’s bad)

This morning big news in our Belgian media about a new study by Stijn Baert and his colleagues in which they checked the impact of smartphone usage on the academic performance of the students:

In this study, we contributed to recent literature concerning the association between smartphone use and educational performance by providing the first causal estimates of the effect of the former on the latter. To this end, we analysed unique data on 696 first-year university students in Belgium. We found that a one-standard-deviation increase in their overall smartphone use yields a decrease in their average exam score of about one point (out of 20). This negative relationship is robust to the use of alternative indicators of smartphone use and academic performance. As our results add to the literature evidence for heavy smartphone use not only being associated with lower exam marks but also causing lower marks, we believe that policy-makers should at least invest in information and awareness campaigns to highlight this trade-off.

I have to admit that I do think that while the researchers have taken a lot into account, there always still can be something else maybe causing this differences. The researchers have attempted to bypass this:

This study is the first to attempt to measure the causal impact of (overall) smartphone use on educational performance. To this end, we exploit data from 696 first-year students at two Belgian universities, who were surveyed in December 2016 using multiple scales on smartphone use as well as predictors of this smartphone use and a battery of questions concerning (potential) other drivers of success at university. This information is merged with the students’ scores on their first exams, taken in January 2017. We analyse the merged data by means of instrumental variable estimation techniques. More concretely, to be able to correctly identify the influence of smartphone use on academic achievement, in a first stage, the respondents’ smartphone use is predicted by diverging sets of variables that are highly significantly associated with smartphone use, but not directly associated with educational performance. In a second stage, the exam scores are regressed on this exogenous prediction of smartphone use and the largest set of control variables used in the literature to date.

In the interview this morning on the radio, the researchers didn’t plea for a total ban of smartphones, but still think it can be a very important element for students to take into consideration.

Abstract of the study:

After a decade of correlational research, this study is the first to measure the causal impact of (general) smartphone use on educational performance. To this end, we merge survey data on general smartphone use, exogenous predictors of this use, and other drivers of academic success with the exam scores of first-year students at two Belgian universities. The resulting data are analysed with instrumental variable estimation techniques. A one-standard-deviation increase in daily smartphone use yields a decrease in average exam scores of about one point (out of 20). When relying on ordinary least squares estimations, the magnitude of this effect is substantially underestimated.

5 Comments

Filed under Education, Research, Technology

5 responses to “New study on smartphone use and academic performance (spoiler: it’s bad)

  1. Still sounds basically correlational to me? Evidence of causation would require a different experimental design, maybe a control group – like if you could convince half the students to stop using smart phones for a year.

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