Computer Use & Cognitive Testing: What Is the Relationship between Experience & Cognitive Ability?

Computer-based cognitive tests are being used by researchers at an increasing rate, and may be particularly useful in population-based clinical assessments. However, it is difficult to determine the validity and usefulness of computer-based testing due to the likelihood that experience and skill with computers may significantly influence test performance. A study in the Journals of Gerontology compared performance on both computer-based and traditional paper-and-pencil tests relative to computer skills in a sample of older adults.

Assessing the relationship between computer experience and test performance is complicated by the fact that older adults who use computers may have cognitive advantages relative to non-computer users; for instance, cognitively skilled older adults may be more likely to take interest in computer use, and the resources and intellectual stimuli provided through computer technology may improve the cognitive skills of users. Although findings on the potential for computer use to improve cognitive ability have been mixed, the interrelationships between skills, experience, and access complicate research on computerized cognitive testing.

To examine the relationship between computer experience and cognitive test performance, researchers recruited a sample of 634 older adults who were physically and cognitively able to use a computer. Participants varied in their level of experience with and attitudes toward computers, and were given a baseline assessment of demographic, cognitive, and health assessments. Participants then completed three computer-based cognitive tests and one paper-and-pencil cognitive test. The authors compared the performance of computer users and non-users on the four tests, while statistically factoring for the effects of attitudes to computers, health, education, and demographic variables.

On average, computer-using older adults are younger, more educated, have more positive attitudes toward computers, and demonstrated higher cognitive performance on the computer and paper-and-pencil tests than older adult non-users. When controlling for demographic and health variables, computer experience had a similar effect on the paper-and-pencil test as it did on the computerized tests, suggesting that computerized cognitive tests may be valid for assessing older adults who do not use computers.


Fazeli PL, Ross LA, Vance DR, et al. The relationship between computer experience and computerized cognitive test performance among older adults. Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences (2013); 68(3): 337–346.


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