Jennifer Feise, sophomore nutrition major from San Antonio, said she spends about four or five hours on Facebook every week keeping up with her 494 friends.
Feise said she’s not wasting time she could spend studying – she’s connecting with people around campus.
Far from endangering her academic future, Feise’s activity on the social networking website may have contributed to her return for a second year of college, according to recent research.
A study of 375 ACU freshmen published recently in the Journal of College Student Retention found students who are more active on Facebook are more likely to return to college after their freshmen year.
A team of researchers – including Dr. Jason Morris, director of the master’s program in higher education at ACU – accessed public information from the Facebook pages of the randomly selected first-semester students enrolled in fall 2006. They analyzed the students’ activities, such as the number of Facebook friends, groups and wall posts throughout the year.
The students who returned to ACU in fall 2007 had 27 more Facebook friends and 59 more wall posts on average than those who left the university. These results support the theory that socially-integrated college students are less likely to drop out than those disconnected from the campus community, Morris said.
The study challenges the idea that social networking websites disengage their users from the people around them, said Dr. Richard Beck, professor of psychology and co-author of the research article.
“This study seems to suggest that we’re using Facebook not to replace relationships, but as a reflection of them,” Beck said.
Facebook users may also form new communities and feel connected to individuals they have never met in person, according to a series of studies performed by Dr. Susan Lewis, associate professor of journalism and mass communication. She presented her findings at the Broadcast Educators Association in April.
Lewis studied how grief is expressed on Facebook, examining those who publicly mourned such tragedies as the shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University, as well as the passing of celebrities Heath Ledger and Michael Jackson.
The mourners who did not know the deceased used more intense expressions of grief than would be normal for a face-to face setting, Lewis said. The mourners also formed communities with people they had never met through their shared pain.
While Lewis’ study did not indicate that Facebook activities mirror users’ real lives, it did support the freshmen study’s conclusions that Facebook communities can be just as important to their members as real-world communities.
“We as humans feel deeply connected to our communities online,” Lewis said. “Whether they are an enhancement of face-to-face communities or a way to meet new people with common interests, they are real, and we feel them.”
Feise said that while Facebook can be used as a substitute for face-to-face friendships, she believes it can help people build relationship relationships in the real world through its non-threatening format.
“It can help you plan activities you are going to do throughout the day, for example, ‘where are we going to sit in Chapel?'” Feise said.