All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Shelia R Cotten

Advisory Committee Members

Patricia Drentea

Patricia Sawyer

Document Type

Thesis

Date of Award

2012

Degree Name by School

Master of Arts (MA) College of Arts and Sciences

Abstract

Previous studies examining the relationship between information and communication technologies (ICTs) and mental health provide conflicting evidence regarding the possible benefits and detriments of ICT use on mental well-being. While ICTs may enhance social cohesion and motivate individuals to engage in new communication methods to strengthen social bonds and develop new social relationships, ICTs may also motivate individuals to retreat from the real world into a virtual one, thus severing established social ties. These positive and negative changes in social integration can have significant effects on mental health, as research has shown that social relationships and social engagement can drastically affect such mental well-being measures as depression and life satisfaction. While previous literature provides conflicting evidence regarding the potential effects of ICT use on mental status, a substantial portion of the empirical research that focuses on older populations suggests that ICT use may improve mental health, although it is unclear to what extent factors of social life may mediate this relationship. This study uses data from the 2004 graduate sample of the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS) to examine the relationship between Internet use and psychological well-being in older adults and to determine if social integration acts as a mediator in this relationship. The findings generated from ordinary least squares (OLS) regression analyses suggest that Internet use serves as a significant predictor for measures of social integration (e.g., visits with friends, involvement with clubs/organizations) as well as measures of psychological well-being (e.g., autonomy, environmental mastery, personal growth, positive relations to others, purpose in life, self-acceptance, and overall psychological well-being). The findings also suggest that measures of social integration only partially mediate the relationship between Internet use and psychological well-being, supporting the notion that ICTs may have a positive impact on older adults even when taking factors of social life into account. The results of this study may have broad social, economic, and political applications, as the findings may help motivate and direct the distribution of ICT-related resources that will benefit the fast-growing segment of older adults in the American population.

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