A new study says that even the smartest college students suffer academically when they use the Internet in class for non-academic purposes.

Michigan State University scholars focused on the typical lecture-hall culture in which professors compete for students’ attention with laptops and smartphones.

The research was financed by the National Science Foundation.
Susan Ravizza, associate professor of psychology and lead investigator on the study says their "working theory" was that heavy Internet users with lower intellectual abilities - determined by ACT scores - would be the ones to perform worse on exams, since "past research suggests smarter people are better at multitasking and filtering out distractions."

But surprisingly, that wasn’t the case. All students, regardless of intellectual ability, had lower exam scores the more they used the Internet for non-academic purposes such as reading the news, sending emails and posting Facebook updates.

Ravizza said that might be because Internet use is a different type of multitasking, in that it can be so engaging.

The study also showed students discounted the effects of Internet use on academic performance, reinforcing past findings that students have poor awareness of how their smartphones and laptops affect learning.

The study appears in the online version of the journal Computers & Education.

Researchers Zach Hambrick and Kimberly Fenn, both from MSU’s Department of Psychology, were co-authors.