Janelle Wohltmann, a graduate student in the UA department of psychology, said older adults, after learning to use Facebook, performed about 25 percent better on tasks designed to measure their ability to continuously monitor and to quickly add or delete the contents of their working memory.
Psychologists term this function "updating."
Study participants, who ranged in age from 68 to 91, were first tested on social variables, such as their levels loneliness and social support, as well as their cognitive abilities.
After eight weeks during which they learned to use Facebook and interact with others on the site, they were tested again.
"The idea evolved from two bodies of research," Wohltmann 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.