Preliminary research from the University of Arizona’s psychology department has found using Facebook can help older people build their working memories, or the ability to keep information in mind while using it to complete tasks.
Graduate student Janelle Wohltman trained 14 seniors how to use Facebook. She instructed them to be Facebook friends with the other people in the study and had them post on the social media site at least once a day. She trained another 14 seniors how to make similar posts on an online diary website where content is kept private, and told another 14 seniors she would teach them how to use Facebook but never did.
Before these trainings, Wohltman and her research adviser gave the study’s participants, who had an average age of 79, a series of tests designed to measure their working memories. They repeated these tests at the end of the study period. The seniors who used Facebook saw a 25 percent increase in their overall performance on these memory tests while the seniors who used the diary site or went without training saw little or no change in their scores.
Though she suspects Facebook’s complex interface — people both post their own information and see what has been posted by others — may be responsible for this memory improvement, Wohltman said more research was needed. She also said it is important to make sure seniors are taught how to safely use Facebook.