Optimizing the use of social media could be beneficial to the mental health of older adults, while helping them feel less isolated. Scientific research suggests that carrying out certain specific activities on Facebook, like posting photos, may be more beneficial to this section of population than overall use of the social network.
From customizing profiles and posting photos to commenting on posts or just scrolling through them, social media use can vary greatly from one user to another, and doesn't necessarily bring them the same benefits. A new study from Penn State University, in collaboration with Kookmin University in South Korea, suggests that developers could find ways of easing the complexity of tasks on social networks to help older users gain confidence and improve their well-being, while also helping to combat their social isolation.
For the study, the researchers conducted both a content analysis and an online survey of around 202 Facebook users over the age of 60. As well as studying data about the content published by participants over a one-year period -- with their agreement -- they also sent each participant an online survey measuring psychological feelings, such as subjective well-being, enjoyment and autonomy.
Specific activities more rewarding than the overall experience
Published in the journal, Health Communication, the research found that participants who posted more pictures to Facebook felt more competent, which led to significantly higher levels of well-being in general. Those who commented more frequently and received more responses to posts tended to have greater feelings of relatedness and connection with others. Finally, customizing their profiles gave users over 60 more of a sense of autonomy while on the site.
Paradoxically, the researchers also discovered that overall Facebook use was linked to lower well-being among the participants. The findings lead the scientists to consider that older adults may want to focus more on certain activities to continue to benefit their mental health, while helping them feel less isolated, especially as the pandemic makes real-world social interaction more difficult.
"Much of the social media research out there focuses on younger people because they tend to be the main users of the technology, but older adults are also becoming more used to technology and are using social media more. So, this study hopefully offers older adults ways to use social media to enhance their positive mental health," explains lead author Eun Hwa Jung.
The research also suggests that developers could contribute to improving the "social connection" of the most isolated individuals during periods of social distancing. Further research may be useful in determining whether similar findings apply to other social media sites.