An interesting new study explored the cognitive benefits of using social media. Half of the 34 participants age 65 or over (average age 76.5) attended a two-hour social media training session once a week for four weeks, while the control group did not attend training sessions until after the study concluded.
During the training sessions, participants learned how to set up and use Facebook or Twitter accounts, as well as how to address privacy and security concerns. In addition to demographic characteristics collected before the intervention, participants also completed measures of cognitive function before the first workshop (baseline), then four weeks later (immediately after the last workshop), and then for a final time four months later (three months after the last workshop). These included tests of overall cognitive functioning, processing speed, inhibitory control, divided attention, and working memory.
Social media use only appeared to impact inhibitory control and overall cognitive functioning. After four weeks of training, participants showed significant improvements in inhibitory control. After four months, the intervention group showed better overall cognitive functioning and even greater improvements in inhibitory control compared to baseline. The control group only showed small improvements in inhibitory control, but the investigator attributed this to practice effects.
At first, these results may seem strange—how does the use of social skills translate to better inhibitory control? As the investigator pointed out, this may have to do with navigating social media platforms. Social media sites usually present a lot of information all at once—newsfeeds, notifications, advertisements, and more—requiring users to focus only on what they’re interested in and block out anything that isn’t important. In general, this type of task tends to become more difficult as we age, but something as simple as regularly using Facebook appears to help older adults maintain this skill. Improvements in overall cognitive function are also a promising finding.
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