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Social Media, Student Study Quality, and Self-Regulation:

An Informed Analysis

Austin Brown

California State University Monterey Bay


Professor Jennifer Lucido

19 May 2017


This capstone paper answers two research questions looking to compare the relationship between

social media use and study quality, and how big of a factor self-regulation is in the relationship.

Using an expanded literature review to explore previous findings on this topic and closely related

ones, this capstone analyzes the current understanding of social media as a distraction and how

this distraction affects study and work qualities. Along with the literature review, Zajoncs

distraction-conflict theory is used to understand how interpersonal communication creates

distractions for individuals trying to achieve a goal. This theory is applied to the findings in the

literature review in order to come up with a final understanding and discussion of answers to the

initial questions.


The purpose of this capstone paper is to analyze the relationships between social media

use, study quality, and self-regulation in college students. I hope to discover useful information

through scholarly sources and construct a conclusion that can be applied to college students in

general and, in turn, students at California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB). The

research questions this study seeks to answer are:

1. How does social media use during study time by college students affect the quality of their

ability to focus during the study session?

2. To what degree do college students rely on self-regulation to monitor social media as a

distraction while trying to learn and study?

Now, why do I care about student study quality and social media? Well I have spent the

last four years watching fellow students waist excessive amounts of time on their cell phones and

laptops browsing social media instead of doing the work that is required of them. I have seen

them fail out of classes because they do not have the motivation to do the work required of them,

yet they can spend hours upon hours watching the same GIF being posted by different friends.

All of this time spent watching friends struggle has made me very interested in whether or not

social media has a negative effect on student study quality.

Social media has not been around, as it is today, for too long. Facebook, the oldest of the

common sites used today, has only been publicly available since 2004. This means people have

only had about 13 years of access to social media, but the number of years is even less if one is

looking to analyze more complex methods of social media communications (i.e. annotated

picture sharing, video chat, GIFS, etc.).

Literature Review

Given that I am looking at the effects of social media use on college students study

quality, the sources reviewed revolve around technology. And, even more specifically, they

revolve around social media sites and services such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and

LinkedIn. These social media sites, as mentioned above, are very recent in their inception and,

therefore, there has not been many years for researchers to develop studies or look at the effects

of social media on society. Because of this lack of information, the articles and studies I use in

this examination may very soon be out of date, or overruled by a more realized study or a study

on an older or younger generation of people. That being said, there is still data that can be used to

analyze and explore my research questions in its current state. With that, I have found three

crucial themes among the sources I have acquired. First, some of the studies I have found are

against social media use in times of concentration. This is normally aimed at the workplace, but

this can still be applied to a study situation because studying is a time that requires concentration

and focus from the student. The second theme is that some studies show the opposite of the first

theme. These studies point to social media being a learning tool; one that allows individuals to

learn at their own pace and construct their own curriculum. And finally, the last theme in the

literature I have found is the importance of self-regulation in the determination of how an

individual handles social media during times of concentration. This literature review is organized

according to three sections:

Social Media as a Distraction

Social Media as a Learning Tool
Self-Regulation as a Factor in the Effect of Social Media

Social Media as a Distraction


The downside to social media use during task-oriented concentration describes the first

theme I found in the literature. There are two major terms that the reader needs to know in order

to fully understand the analysis. First, technostress, a form of stress that is caused when a person

attempts to use technology, or social media, while they are simultaneously trying to complete a

task (Brooks et al., 2016). With a high enough level of technostress, a person is not able to apply

the necessary focus to achieve the goal they should be trying to achieve. Technostress can be

used to describe what causes university students to fail at studying after a certain amount of time

browsing their choice of social media. Because there is so much going on for the student, social

media grabbing for their attention, ads on webpages, and the lingering thoughts about the school

work that should be the center of their focus, the student is under a lot of stress. This stress often

leads to the student caving and retiring to the safety of their social media homepages.

Technostress is used to represent the level at which students are feeling overwhelmed with

options, and eventually caving.

In Brooks article, there are also several graphs. One of the most relevant shows the trend

in task performance as technostress increases and task variety decreases. What Brooks and his

colleagues found is that technostresss effects are compounded if the tasks being performed are

not varied (Brooks, 2016). This is especially relevant to college students because quite often they

are faced with doing similar assignments in a short period of time. As students continue to write

paper after paper or doing math problem after math problem, they become more and more likely

to get sucked into social media and for a longer amount of time. They get to the point where

boredom and monotony make them desire a break. As the boredom continues, the desire gets

worse until the student just gives up on the task completely. This information could be used by

universities to develop a system of diversifying assignments across all majors and courses. If

students are working on a variety of projects, assignments, and examinations then they are less

likely to waste precious time on social media. Even assigning alternating assignments would help

break up the monotony and increase student performance.

Along with technostress, there is mind wandering. Mind wandering is a term used by

R.B. Hollis and C.A. Was. It is essentially becoming distracted. As an individual begins to mind

wander, they get distracted from whatever task they should be focused on and instead begin to

think about non-related ideas. In studying students mind wandering habits, Hollis and Was

found, When subjects were mind wandering, 29.1% of their off-task thoughts were about using

another technology or engaging with social media. In total, subjects were thinking about

technology and social media 12.5% of the time. (2016, p. 111) This shows that there are studies

proving the distracting capabilities of social media. In their study, Hollis and Was found that

almost 13% of the time people were studying, they were thinking about using social media sites.

This may not seem like a large percentage, but 13% of the total time an average student spends

studying and doing homework would quickly add up to a significant amount of time. This time

would be written off and lost simply because the individual was too busy updating their status or

viewing the status of another person.

Now this is not necessarily an issue for every student. In a study of mobile phones and

the distractions they cause, the researchers found The number of Facebook friends was

positively related to MPIL (David et al., 2015, p. 1675). In this case MPIL was an acronym for

mobile phone interference level. The researchers measured the level of interference, or

distraction, that social media has on individuals. The positive relationship described above means

that as a persons friends list increases, so does the level of distraction caused by using Facebook.

This means that the more friends a person has, the longer and more frequently they are distracted

by social media. Also, this shows that people with less online friends, are less likely to be

distracted by talking to them. This makes sense, and it could be used to argue that social media is

not necessarily a bad thing. If students limit themselves to a realistic number of friends online,

they will encounter fewer distractions while focusing on important work. However, with the

cultural importance of high friend numbers and constant likes, comments, and favorites, it is

pretty unlikely that anyone could convince people to have fewer Facebook friends. This is not

the best solution to the very real problem.

Continuing on the topic of social media being a distraction, some students are able to

reflect on their studying and find that they are getting distracted. However, this is not an

immediate discovery. According to Drawn to distraction: A qualitative study of off-task use of

educational technology, students were able to recognize they were distracted, but only after

about ten minutes of being distracted (Aagaard, 2015). So, students can detect that they are

distracted, but they have to waste at least ten minutes before coming to that realization. And,

along the lines of the 13% of time spent on social media discussed above, this ten plus minutes

can quickly add up to represent a significant amount of time. This ability to detect current

distraction helps students regain their focus, however at the loss of ten valuable minutes every

time this occurs, the student is losing valuable time incredibly fast.

A more corporate factor that influences social media use during study time are the

advertisements and the attractiveness of these sites and services. Websites today are made to be

more user friendly, more interactive, and more engaging than ever. Castells explains the

economic change of focus that has happened over the last few decades. In the past, companies

only sold goods and services to generate revenue, but today that is different. In 1996, when he

wrote his book, and even more so now in 2017 information is the hottest good around (2016). A

lot of the biggest companies today are tech companies dealing in the transfer of information.

They want to make money and to do so they need people to use their products. Their products

tend to be online applications or social media based applications, and they generate money

through ad views and other forms of sponsorships. Because of this, it is the companys desire and

purpose to make an addicting site that people will not want to leave and will want to share. This

purposeful addictiveness does not aide the struggling college student in his or her attempts to

refocus on the task or tasks at hand.

Social media has evolved quickly and at the same time it has become a bigger and bigger

problem for students abilities to focus. Students are constantly introduced to new potential

connections and conversations. They are exposed to excessive advertisements, often based off

their own search history, and incentives that continue to draw them in without any warning or

cooling off period. It is no wonder that so many students find themselves pouring hours into their

cellphones and not their textbooks.

Social Media as a Learning Tool

Social media has definitely been proven to be a distraction, but some would argue that it

actually acts as a very powerful learning tool. This opinion seems to be most present with the

students, and youth in general, themselves. There is a study that found that 77% of students

surveyed believed that Facebook could be used for educational purposes. However, it also found

that only 27% of students reported their teachers implementing Facebook into their lessons

(Fewkes et al., 2012). While it may often be a distraction, the students feel that they are getting

some level of education out of exploring other opinions, reading random articles that discuss

topics of interest to them, and sharing ideas among their peers. Also, social media can be an

excellent supplement to the standard teaching mechanism. If students have access to YouTube

videos that teach them the lessons and they have the ability to watch it over and over again, this

provides an excellent resource to enhance their education. Some researchers argue that teachers

should spend more of their time developing YouTube content or finding existing content that

relates to their curriculum (Hong et al., 2016). These videos can be used by students who may be

struggling in the class to catch up and be on par with the rest of the class. This would allow the

class as a whole to learn more from the teacher because he or she would not have to regress as

much to catch up the students who are falling behind. If this use of social media became

commonplace, students self-esteem would be higher, their successes would be greater, and the

schools would probably gain better reputations.

Along this theme of social media and productivity, there is a major argument to be made

that social media allows individuals to share ideas. As mentioned before, teachers could use this

to enhance their teaching experience. But, the idea sharing does not have to end there. Paul

Templin writes about this idea sharing in a quite a positive way, so long as the information being

shared is accurate and not confidential. Templin argues that it can be immensely beneficial for a

company to allow its employees to be creative and share ideas with other employees over social

media (Templin, 2012). This can be manifested in video clips describing themes that are popular

at the company, in tweets being shared about the companys success or failures, or even in

sharing surveys with their customer base to get feedback on their services. Social media can be

an excellent resource for students who may need extra help from their teachers or peers. It can

also be used by excelling students to explore deeper ideas in their area of study. While at times it

is a distraction, there are arguments to be made that the benefits of idea sharing and content

exploration outweigh the increase in time it takes to properly study.


The idea sharing theme is continued in Chaykos work. She takes an approach that social

media can indeed be beneficial to progress on assignments, especially if the help is reached for

anonymously and the answer is returned anonymously (2008). She concludes that because

people are not attached to their questions, they are more open to asking whatever they actually

need to ask. They will not be made to feel stupid or be made fun of because no one will know

who they are. And if the respondent is anonymous as well it limits the feeling of owing someone

or even jealousy.

This is an important finding from the literature review because it is especially relatable to

college students. There is a constant struggle in colleges for students to maintain a certain level

or status in the eyes of their peers. No one wants to be made feel stupid and definitely no one

wants to be picked on for their questions. By being able to ask their questions anonymously

online, these students are able to learn and understand the class material better than they would

without anonymous social media or message boards. Also, some students are just shy and

hesitate to ask questions in front of the entire class. For these individuals, an anonymous online

route is a great resource as well. Shy students can post questions at their leisure and wherever

they feel comfortable. They are also posting questions in a place where people are prepared to

answer whatever comes their way and will not judge the individual on question quality.

Since these students are receiving better explanations and are able to get their questions

answered in a way that causes them no harm, they will be more likely to get their work done. In

the case of this capstone, social media may present a bit of distraction when it comes to study

time, but if the student is using social media as a resource to further their learning, the distraction

is dwarfed by the benefits. Students are able to receive guilt free and thorough answers to

questions they otherwise might not have asked. This deepens their understanding of the topics

and therefore improves their abilities to achieve excellent scores on homework and exams.

Social media, although often highlighted for its distracting and destructive tendencies,

has many positives that can be associated with it. Looking at the issue in terms of learning and

school work, social media can be an excellent place to grow ideas and share concepts between

multiple students. It can also be used to provide a safe space for those who feel less inclined to

speak out during class sessions or professor office hours. There are many benefits to social media


Self-Regulation as a Factor on the Effect of Social Media

And the final theme that I have found in the literature is that the benefits or downsides of

social media use during concentration are primarily determined by the individuals ability to

regulate their use on their own. The idea behind this theme is that if a person has enough will-

power they can use social media for the purpose of learning without getting carried away and lost

down the rabbit hole of the internet. When talking about technostress, Brooks describes his

survey results, Specifically, our results suggest that job feedback, task identity, task

significance, and task variety can significantly reduce the impact of social media-induced

technostress on job performance. This implies that social media-induced technostress can be

managed (2016, p. 150). He found that if the job the person is supposed to be doing is

interesting enough to the person, they will not turn to social media for entertainment. This is

probably mostly due to the fact that the employee is not bored doing his or her job. This can be

compared to studying at the college level by comparing the interesting job task to an interesting

class or assignment. If the student is interested in their class, then it will be easier for him or her

to manage technostress, and be productive when it comes to assignments and studying. This

could mean that there is a difference in social medias effect on study quality when comparing

lower-division general education classes to upper-division major courses.

Another factor that affects how an individual manages their focus is motivation. It is

important to students to have proper motivation to study, and to get off of or properly use social

media. Melody Bethards looks at this issue in her article. She describes a need to include the

students in the learning process can provide them the motivation they need to pay attention. If

the instructor pays ample amount of attention to his or her students, the students may feel

obligated to return a similar amount of attention, or they will be more invested in the course and

therefore put more attention into the class (Bethards, 2014). The attention a teacher or professor

gives to the students acts as motivation for the students to pay attention and put effort into the

class. On top of attention from the teacher, grades can be an excellent motivator as well. Using

extra credit to reward class participation and encourage focus in the classroom is excellent

motivation to students (Weiler et al., 2015). A students grade point average, especially at the

college level, can be very important. It can determine grad school opportunities and first job

options. Also, if a student is failing a class any type of extra credit is greatly appreciated.

Offering a system like this one definitely provides motivation to the students who are struggling

in the class. These students will probably be the ones who are quickest to get sidetracked by

social media and the internet black hole in general.

Extra credit and regular class credit could both be used as a motivator outside of class as

well. Teachers and professors could begin to embrace the shift to social media use instead of

despising it, and this support could reflect in students overall involvement in the class. If a

teacher or professor created assignments that integrated social media into the work, students

would be more likely to engage and more motivated to do the work. In fact, they may actually

learn better because they are interested in the assignment and not just doing the work to pass the

class. This same schematic could work for extra credit, although that may be asking too much of

teachers. The new types of assignments though would really influence why students are on social

media sites, because its fair to say that there isnt much to do about influencing when students

are using these services.

This change towards teacher accepted social media use may happen sooner rather than

later too. Castells, writing his book in 1996, mentions multiple times the fact that internet

communication can in no way shape or form replace or even emulate other forms of

communication. He also argued that it doesnt create any new opportunities or connections for

people. Had he known that a little over twenty years after he wrote his article we would have a

reliable ability to video chat in real time with people all over the world, he may rethink his

proposition. Again, video calls, instant messaging, and photo sharing all allow for individuals to

create dense and complex communication. The leap from denying the abilities of internet based

communication to fully embracing it happened very quickly. As soon as people learned about the

power of the internet and were able to create applications for it, generations quickly started to

adopt the new form of communication.

The speed of the jump just mentioned could be similar to the jump that will be made by

teaching professionals. As teachers become more and more enlightened on the benefits of social

media use, when used properly, they will become more and more inclined to support it. At that

point, it will just be up to the younger generations to grow up, become teachers, and create new

and innovative ways to teach their curriculum. We will see a shift in academic norms toward

internet and technology use in general very soon, if Castells change in belief is any indication of

what to expect.

This move to accepting and encouraging social media use could improve students

abilities to self-regulate. If they are encouraged to use their social media accounts during

homework and through study sessions, it will be easier for them to become invested in the work.

That investment builds the motivation that was explained above. With this motivation, students

are able to make smarter and more rational choices. These smarter choices could include limiting

themselves to x number of hours per day online or turning off message notifications from the top

social media sites in order to focus on the class work at hand.

A different approach to self-regulation is the speed at which distracting tasks can get

done. People are going to get distracted, but if they are able to get through their distractions

faster, they get back to the work faster. When talking about ordering products online compared to

over the phone, Mckenzie argues, The Web orders could be so much more efficiently made that

the workers actually increase the amount of time spent working (2003, p. 190) At the time

Mckenzie wrote this book social media did not exist as it does today, but online stores and

emailing were becoming very popular distractions in the workplace and the study space.

Mckenzie argues in his book that because the internet is faster and more efficient than previous

alternatives like phone orders and catalogs, people were actually being distracted just as much

but getting through them faster. Employees could still shop at work, which is an inevitable aspect

of corporate work, but get more actual work done. This is a unique argument for self-regulation

because the people arent in any more control over their actions, instead the technology itself

helps regulate the users.

Relating this to students studying is pretty easy. Students act in similar ways to the

employees mentioned above. It is inevitable that students will become distracted by one thing or

another. Using Mckenzies example, it seems to be the best when students are distracted by

social media. Online societies allow an individual to get distracted and accomplish a lot of tasks

at once, which cuts the distraction time down significantly. For example, a student is able to send

a group message through Facebook to many people instead of having to individually email every

group member or, even worse, call them on the phone. Also, students can send pictures of

environments or exciting events through Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, etc. which significantly

decreases the amount of time it would take to describe these views or events over the phone or

through a text message. This efficiency forces students to snap out of their distracted phase faster

because they are able to achieve their goals quicker. A student can quickly send out an invite to

all of his or her friends, or share a funny experience and then jump right back into the books or


By reviewing all of this information, it has become clear to me that this is a very divided

discussion. There are two sides to this argument and at least one factor that determines which

side a person will fall on. College students are very susceptible to social media distraction, even

with all of the potential academic benefits associated with using these sites. It would be very

interesting to see what side of the coin CSUMB tends to land on.


Zajoncs theory of social facilitation includes many parts and levels. One of these levels

can be referred to as distraction-conflict theory. Distraction-conflict theory is a very versatile and

widely applicable theory. It is most commonly used by psychologists, sociologists, and other

behavioral scientists. However, there are examples of its application to other disciplines. In this

case, computer scientists apply the theory to interactions in virtual worlds. According to Goel,

Prokopec, and Junglas, The basic idea of this theory is that others are distracting. When

performing a task in the presence of, or with others, an individual is distracted (2013, p.267).

This theory has previously been grounded in in-person communication. Yet, this theory is not

restricted to real life interpersonal events. I believe, that this theory can relate perfectly to my

research questions regarding CSUMB students study time and the quality of their studying in

regards to how much social media they use. I feel that the access and use of social media can

take the place of face to face interaction in this theory. Talking to people online, or liking their

posts, or posting for yourself are all ways of communicating with other people and the world.

This social interaction can be seen as a distraction that takes away from the potential studying

quality the student had. The authors mentioned above begin to justify this argument by arguing

that the basis of reality is not absolute, but instead it is socially constructed (Goel et al., 2013).

Because reality, at least for the purposes of this argument, is created through social experiences

and the way each individual interprets society and his or her experiences; a person can argue that

social media, and other web based interactions, are just as impactful as face to face interactions.

If they stand as equals, then distraction-conflict theory can apply just as much to social media as

it does to a person standing right in front of the student studying.

Lets further discuss how social media can act as real world interpersonal

communication. Distraction theory describes how interactions with other physical people

immediately forms a distraction. As soon as an individual is presented with another person there

is a distraction created. The depth and level of the distraction varies greatly depending on the

susceptibility of the individual to distraction. However, no matter how strict and unsusceptible a

person might be, a distraction is created. Now, understanding this idea of inevitable distraction,

there is a clear argument to be made for distraction-conflict theory and its application to social

media. Because social media allows people to talk to each other, share images, and even video

chat, it creates a medium to allow people to express ideas and hold conversations through the

internet. These conversations, just like ones in real life, immediately create a distraction for the

user. This is a distraction that they are forced to either indulge in, or fight off. But either way,

distraction-conflict theory can be used to analyze how the distraction affects an individual and

their world.


For the methodology used in this capstone, I relied solely on existing studies and

scholarly arguments. An expanded literature review was used as the basis to find, and support,

arguments and discussion topics presented in this work. This expanded literature review looked

for academic and professional articles and books that were written about social media as a

distraction, social media as a positive work enhancement, and Zajoncs distraction-conflict

theory. Along with these sources, I also found some statistical data based off of surveys other

academics conducted. Using these resources, I was able to answer my research questions and

obtain a high level of confidence in my final analysis and discussion.

The sources selected for this literature review were published no earlier than 2010. This is

a very new issue that I chose to examine and, because of this, it was important that all of the

studies and papers I used as sources were conducted as recently as possible. New social media

sites, services, and communication options are popping up constantly in todays world, so the

studies needed to include the most up-to-date information as I could possibly find.

Analysis and Discussion

As we begin to draw to a close, we must first discuss how Zajoncs theory relates to the

findings in the literature review, and what these findings mean for the research questions. To

start, Zajoncs distraction-conflict theory shows how interpersonal interactions immediately pose

an individual with a distraction from their goal or task. As I mentioned above, this can be used to

explain the distraction that social media poses because its a tool to communicate with other

individuals or groups. Zajoncs theory fits perfectly with the first, and most apparent, theme

found in the literature review. In fact, Brooks basically describes the combination of Zajoncs

ideas and technology when he introduces and explains technostress. One aspect distraction-

conflict theory does not explicitly address is the use of self-regulation to manage the distractions.

This is where the literature review helps find a solution to the problem posed by the research

questions, scholarly studies, and Zajoncs theory.

When a student is able to regulate themselves, they can not only manage the distractions

introduced by social media, but they are able to harness the communication technology to benefit

the progress on their tasks. A student who cannot control their desires to talk with friends will get

overwhelmed by the pressure and succumb to the distraction. However, when and if the student

is able to control their desire he or she can avoid the distraction, complete the task at hand, and

even use social networks to increase their productivity. As discussed in the literature review,

social media can be used to share productive ideas and inspire new ones. It also allows co-

workers and student groups to work on a project collectively when schedules or locations do not

allow them to work on it in person together.

There are actually several ways social media can benefit a studying student. It could

allow him or her to ask a question he or she felt scared to ask in class. It could create an

opportunity for extra credit if their teacher was interested enough in offering it. And finally, it

could speed up the inevitable distraction period that occurs when people focus on a task for too


I would suggest for future researchers to compose an original study on a college campus

in order to get more primary data in this research field. As of now, it is a little bit difficult to find

suitable and legitimate research studies conducted on problems similar to this one. Again, this is

due to how new many of these social networks are, but that does not mean that surveys could not

be produced and sent out now. Also, I would suggest that researchers in the future look to see

what is the most distracting aspect of social media. Is there a more harmful effect caused by the

video calls, instant messaging, or photo sharing aspects of social media? Or are they all the



It is clear, from the sources provided and the theory analyzed, that social media is most

definitely a distraction that students at any college have to deal with when trying to focus on

their school work. However, it is equally clear that said distraction can be overcome by self-

regulation in order to achieve the original goal, and sometimes even surpass it through

cooperation with others.

Social media presents another person or group of people for students to have

conversations with. This immediately initiates a natural and unavoidable distraction. Students are

then forced to make a difficult choice, often times made subconsciously. Most of the time

students choose to browse the internet and these sites for a little bit as a reward for their hard

work. This leads them to becoming more distracted and not being able to regain focus on the task

they were working on. All that being said, there are some cases where students are able to regain

focus on their own and utilize social media to enhance their knowledge and productivity.

This conclusion is very situational, depending on each students ability to self-regulate

and their responsibility level. But it is safe to say that social media, as it has evolved to be today,

is a common distraction to students around the country. It is equally safe to say that this effect

may not last forever and social media should, eventually, be adopted by academic institutions as

a way to enhance the curriculum. Social media is not going anywhere, so students, teachers,

professors, and administrative staff need to begin devising ways to embrace it.


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