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Co-development between personality traits and internet use among older adults


With an aging global population, it is critically important to understand the consequences of everyday behavior for late-life personality development. Internet use is becoming increasingly embedded into older adults’ lives, and researchers have hypothesized that it may buffer older adults from age-graded declines in healthy personality traits. This dissertation contains two pre-registered studies. In the first, I tested the co-development between three factor-analytically derived clusters of internet use (instrumental, social, and media) and three aspects of psychological adjustment (loneliness, satisfaction with life, and depressiveness) among a representative sample of 2,922 Dutch adults aged 65 and older. Latent growth curve analyses indicated that internet use was largely unrelated to psychological adjustment, both cross-sectionally and longitudinally. Furthermore, cross-lagged analyses indicated that change in internet use did not predict future change in psychological adjustment, and vice-versa. In the second study, I examined co-development between instrumental, social, and media internet use and two aspects of cognitive engagement (openness to experience and need for cognition) using the same sample. Latent growth curve analyses indicated that older adults who were more cognitively engaged used the internet more frequently, especially for instrumental purposes like search and email. Those who increased in their use of online media over time declined less in need for cognition than their peers. I contrasted these findings against null associations between cognitive engagement and TV/radio use. Associations between internet use and cognitive engagement remained constant from 2008 to 2017 even as internet use became much more common. Overall, results of these two studies suggest that internet use in older adulthood is mostly unrelated to psychological adjustment but highly relevant to cognitive engagement.

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