In the follow-ups, those who had learned to use Facebook performed about 25 percent better than they did at the start of the study on tasks designed to measure their mental updating abilities. Participants in the other groups saw no significant change in performance.
Wohltmann conducted the study with help from her research adviser Betty Glisky, professor and head of the department of psychology, and a team of undergraduate and graduate research assistants. It was based on existing evidence about how learning new tasks can help older adults with overall cognitive function, as well as research suggesting a possible link between social connectedness and cognitive performance.
"The idea evolved from two bodies of research," she said. "One, there is evidence to suggest that staying more cognitively engaged learning new skills, not just becoming a couch potato when you retire but staying active leads to better cognitive performing. It's kind of this 'use it or lose it' hypothesis."
"There's also a large body of literature showing that people who are more socially engaged, are less lonely, have more social support and are more socially integrated are also doing better cognitively in older age," she said.
In Wohltmann's research, further analysis is needed to determine whether using Facebook made participants feel less lonely or more socially connected, she said.
Likewise, further analysis is needed to determine whether, or by how much, Facebook's social aspect contributed to improvements in cognitive performance. However, Wohltmann suspects that the complex nature of the Facebook interface, compared to the online diary site, was largely responsible for Facebook users' improved performance.
"The Facebook interface is actually quite complex. The big difference be
|Contact: Janelle Wohltmann|
University of Arizona