This study included 41 older adults living in the community and in senior living, with an average age of 79. Fourteen participants learned and used Facebook for eight weeks. After being trained on how to use Facebook, the group was asked to post at least once and to comment on someone else’s post at least once a day. Interestingly, the participants could only interact with each other, rather than friends and family, so this study did not include the impact of using Facebook to connect with loved ones. A different group of 13 older adults was asked to complete online diaries over the same period to identify whether any observed benefit was social networking-specific. A third comparison group did neither of these activities.
At the start and end of the study, all participants were given neuropsychological tests that measured executive functioning, memory, and processing speed, as well as a survey about social support.
When the researchers compared the three groups, they found that the Facebook users showed a significant increase in what is known as updating, which measures ability to conduct the complex tasks of monitoring and refreshing information in working memory. No other significant differences were found on other cognitive or social support measures.
The inclusion of the online diary group suggests that the cognitive benefit seen is due to factors specific to Facebook or other social networking sites, rather than from general computer or Internet use. The authors suggest that the demand of reading and responding to Facebook content may have been what produced the observed cognitive effect. Although the users did not show an increase in social support, the researchers also suggest that the increased social engagement of Facebook users may have also contributed to the observed cognitive outcome.