RAP ON: Does Social Media Ease the Stress of Finals or INCREASE IT?

About the Author: Amara Bradetich is a graduate student in the School of Public Health and Human Services at Oregon State University. Studying in the Human Development and Family Science area, her research focuses on how maternal stress during pregnancy affects child self regulation and sensory processing in early childhood. This post is part of our series of Research Advancing Pedagogy (RAP) blogs, designed to share pedagogical research from across the disciplines in a pragmatic format.

Scrolling through Instagram, watching videos on TikTok, or FaceTiming friends have become popular activities in the past few decades, and increasingly so in the past year of lockdowns and remote learning. But how do these activities influence academic achievement of undergraduate students?  This is what Sternberg and colleagues (2020) explored in their study of the effects of procrastinatory social media usage on student anxiety about finals. Prior research has shown procrastination to be a self-regulatory strategy for about one-fifth of the adult population and half of the student population (Rozental & Carlbring, 2014). This pervasive strategy for coping with feeling overwhelmed may have detrimental effects on students’ test anxiety when using social media as a way to procrastinate studying for finals.

What did they do?

Sternberg and colleagues (2020) conducted a two-study investigation of the effects of procrastinatory Facebook usage on student anxiety while studying for tests. The first study collected longitudinal data on 51 undergraduate students during their real-life preparation for finals, including texted surveys students completed at six random times during the 3 days prior to a major exam on the amount of time they spent on Facebook and their feelings of anxiety and overall well-being. The second study used a laboratory exam context to manipulate the amount of time students spent on Facebook and how this influenced the participants’ anxiety. This study included 68 undergraduate students who completed a series of lab sessions that included answering surveys about their baseline levels of anxiety, were split into a control and experimental group, and given 20 minutes before a short intelligence test, with one group instructed to prepare for the test with access to the web and the other given free time.

What did they find?
In the first study, the authors found that increased Facebook usage before real-life exams increased the students’ levels of anxiety over the three days prior to the test. The second study found that Facebook usage led to anxiety only when it was used in place of studying. By splitting their participants into two groups and telling one to prepare and the other not to, they were able to identify if student anxiety is associated with Facebook use specifically when it is used in place of preparing for an exam. The authors used the two-study design as a means of providing evidence of a causal association between procrastinatory social media usage and increased anxiety before exams; the first study provided a strong correlation between Facebook usage and anxiety, and the second study provided causal evidence that Facebook usage in place of studying causes increased anxiety in students preparing for exams.

What does it mean for us?

This research is especially salient to us because of the increased remoteness of school, work, and socializing that has occurred over the past year. Students are having to be even more self-reliant for regulating their studying and schoolwork than ever before, while trying to find a balance and avoid distraction by the increasing popularity of social media. This study provides evidence of a causal association between Facebook usage and anxiety when preparing for an exam; this is important for educators to be aware of in order to provide support and strategies for students to avoid this tempting procrastinatory strategy. Students need to be aware of the detrimental impact on their mental health that social media can have, especially in relation to test preparation and their success in school. Students should set boundaries for their own social media use when preparing for finals or working to complete big assignments for class. They can set timers for when they do use social media to remind themselves to limit their usage, as well as delete the apps during busy times of the semester if they have a hard time avoiding the temptation.

References

Rozental, A., & Carlbring, P. (2014). Understanding and treating procrastination: A review of a common self-regulatory failure. Psychology, 5(13), 1489-1502. https://doi.org/10.4236/psych.2014.513160

Sternberg, N., Luria, R., Chandhok, S., Vickers, B., Kross, E., & Sheppes, G. (2020). When facebook and finals collide: procrastinatory social media usage predicts enhanced anxiety. Computers in Human Behavior, 109, 108. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2020.106358

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