Mindless surfing and critical thinking don’t go together

There’s no doubt the internet is an invaluable research tool. But it can also be a source of pernicious misinformation, astroturfed spin and virulent, hateful, troll-fueled content.

As with every technology, it’s how we use the web — for good or for ill — that makes a difference.

New research now shows that going online for non-academic reasons when you’re supposed to be engaged in critical thinking is bad for test scores.

Researchers from Michigan State University began their study with the assumption that it would be mostly poor students whose test scores would be hurt by the distractions of sending emails, checking Facebook and reading the news while taking an exam. They discovered they were wrong.

Regardless of ACT score, it turns out, students get lower scores on exams when they’re multitasking online. What’s more, despite evidence to the contrary, students don’t believe their online activities have any impact on their academic performance.

“(H)igher rates of internet use were associated with lower test grades and students’ beliefs about this relationship did not reflect their ability to multi-task effectively,” the researchers write.

Yet another discovery the study made is that, the better the student, the more he or she went online during class over time. In other words, the internet is proving to be a great democratizer … but in the sense that it’s bringing down everyone’s test scores in a college setting.


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