Broadening online worlds could help maintain and improve cognitive abilities in old age.
Conor Friedersdorf recently put forward an interesting question: At what age will you stop using Facebook? Many of the college students, now twentysomethings, who made up Facebook's original user base may already be feeling the fatigue. But it may be through other groups of people, for whom the site was never specifically intended but have nonetheless been discovering it in droves, that Facebook may find new ways of remaining relevant.
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Janelle Wohltmann, a grad student in psychology at the University of Arizona, has been teaching the 65-plus crowd how to use the social network, in order to determine ways in which using Facebook might benefit them. She gathered a small group of adults, aged 68 to 91, who were either unfamiliar with Facebook or who had set up a profile, but rarely used it. Like a protective parent, she asked them to limit their network, only friending other members of their training group, but she also required that they post updates at least once a day.
Meanwhile, another 14 participants were asked to post short entries to a private online diary site, and yet another group -- the control -- were told they were on a waiting list for the Facebook lessons.
Before joining Facebook, all of her subjects participated in a series of tests and questionnaires designed to measure both social variables and cognitive ability. At the end of eight weeks, they were re-tested.