Twitter might be “what’s happening,” as the social media giant claims in its tagline, but what’s happening amid the chirping isn’t a ton of learning, a new study suggests.

The working paper, published this month, analyzed academic performance among more than 1,400 students at dozens of schools in Italy and found that pupils who used Twitter as a tool for literature study performed significantly worse than those who did not.

Extrapolated out over other areas, the results leave it easy to imagine how Twitter might be making us all dumber.

Use of Twitter reduced students’ performance by 25% to 40% of a standard deviation, according to the study, which was conducted by researchers at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Italy.

Though the study gave weight to the possibility that social media can encourage young people to gain valuable practice expressing opinions, it also said “reading and discussing literary works on social media… could lessen the attention students give to the text, inducing skim reading, and therefore hampering a full understanding of what they read.”

That’s probably not a giant surprise to anyone who’s spent a day scrolling through tweets and then found themselves wondering how their attention span evaporated.

The study’s authors said the research doesn’t settle absolutely questions about Twitter’s impact on our learning.

But Gian Paolo Barbetta, the lead author and a professor of economic policy at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, told the Washington Post, “I can’t say whether something is changing in the mind, but I can say that something is definitely changing in the behavior and the performance,” and “It’s quite detrimental.”

The research paper also said the largest “detrimental” effects were on the strongest students.


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