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The time college students spend updating their "status" and cyber-friending people on Facebook may be catching up with them, according to a recent study published by three Covenant College undergraduates.

Students who check their Facebook accounts several times a day and remain logged into the social networking site for long periods are more likely to have poor grades and bad study habits, said Anna Yeoman, a Covenant psychology major who helped author the study.

Aggressive Facebook users also were found to tend more toward the personality traits of neurosis and being extroverts, Ms. Yeoman said.

"I think it has good components, but it can reach the obsessive," she said. "People get stressed out with school and they think, 'I don't want to deal with it, so I will distract myself by looking at pictures for hours and hours and chitchatting as a way of not dealing with issues that are right here in real life.'"

The Facebook study, conducted by Ms. Yeoman, Claudia Canales and Brooke Wilbanks, examined the social networking habits, personality and academic performance of 61 Covenant students. It will be published this spring in Modern Psychological Studies, a journal of undergraduate research published by the University of Tennessee of Chattanooga.

Ms. Wilbanks said she and the other student researchers asked students to rank their own Facebook usage on a scale of one to seven. A seven on the scale indicated they checked Facebook more than seven times per day, she said.

Those who placed themselves on the highest end of the scale tested highest for the personality traits of extraversion - gregariousness, assertiveness, warmth and excitement seeking - but also placed high in neuroticism - anxiety, hostility, depression, vulnerability to stress and impulsiveness.

Students who ranked their Facebook usage as high also reported the lowest grades and the worst study habits, such as texting with their cell phone in class and not studying until the night before a test, Ms. Wilbanks said.

Kevin Earnes, an associate professor of psychology at Covenant, said the students' study calls into question the pervasive use of Facebook and suggests it may be a form of anti-social networking.

"Insofar as the neuroticism factor is concerned, it is possible that Facebook usage exacerbates rather than alleviates the behaviors associated with neurotic personality traits," Dr. Earnes said.

Earlier this year, the three Covenant students presented their findings at the Southern Psychological Association conference in New Orleans.

"This is the first time in memory that psychology students have published research while still studying for their degrees at Covenant," said Phil Wright, the Covenant psychology professor who directed the research. "The Facebook study is important because it adds to the growing literature on the psychological impact of social networking."

The three undergraduates decided to begin researching Facebook during their Introduction to Research Methods class. Ms. Yeoman said she was fascinated by the handful of studies conducted on social networking and thought there was more to learn about the phenomenon.

"You see people where (Facebook) is always open on their screen and you wonder how much time is spent on that," she said. "It was a big question, and it is interesting."

PDF: Facebook usage study

FACEBOOK FACTS

* 300 million active users

* 50 percent of users log on every day

* Average user has 130 friends on the site

* More than 6 billion minutes are spent on Facebook each day (worldwide)

* More than 40 million status updates each day

Source: Facebook

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