Increased Smartphone Use Equals Lower GPA Among College Students

A new study from Kent State University found that the relationship between cellphone use and grade point average is “statistically significant and negative.”

by / March 17, 2015
A new study suggests smartphone use can lead to bad grades. Shutterstock

If college students want to excel in the classroom, they'll need to lay off using their smartphones, according to a new study.

A Kent State University survey of approximately 500 students revealed that coeds using their phones more than 10 hours per day had a significantly lower grade-point average – 2.84 – in comparison to the GPA of those students who only used their phones up to two hours daily – 3.15.

Professors Jacob Barkley, Andrew Lepp and Aryn Karpinski published their findings last month. The survey, The Relationship Between Cell Phone Use and Academic Performance in a Sample of U.S. College Students, follows in the footsteps of previous research done and findings made by the group.

The difference this time, however, is that the researchers controlled for several factors. Those items included gender, high school GPA, class standing and self-confidence for self-regulated learning and academic achievement.

In an email to Government Technology, Barkley explained that after controlling for these known predictors, the group still found the relationship between cellphone use and GPA was “statistically significant and negative.”

“When we normalized students (made them all the same) on a number of factors known to predict academic achievement, heavy cellphone use was still predictive of a lower GPA,” Barkley said. “This greatly strengthens our previous findings, which did not control for these known predictors.”

Initially, as an exercise scientist, Barkley explained he wanted to assess cellphone use as a potential sedentary behavior, similar to watching TV. But since the devices are portable, their use doesn’t have to be sedentary and doesn’t appear to be a sedentary activity.

After questioning students, many said smartphones “pull them away” from academic studies and increase their stress level. What triggered Barkley to explore the connection between cellphone use and academic achievement was the misuse of phones on a daily basis in the classroom.

“While some may feel these devices can be problematic – academically – if overused, why is there no call to curtail their use?” Barkley questioned. “Why is constant cellphone use so acceptable? Perhaps it’s a lack of evidence empirically illustrating the potential pitfalls of cellphone overuse.”

Looking ahead, Barkley revealed that the current study won’t be the last he and his colleagues conduct on cellphone use. He noted there are several projects already under way that look at the use of smartphones and the technology’s relationship to other behaviors and behavioral outcomes.

“I am confident we will have something more to share in the coming months,” he said. “Spoiler alert – the findings are largely not positive.”

Brian Heaton

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.