Gender and Computer Anxiety

Gender and Computer Anxiety

Sue E. Kase (The Pennsylvania State University, USA) and Frank E. Ritter (The Pennsylvania State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-026-4.ch255
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Abstract

Because of their ability to enhance productivity, computers have become ubiquitous in the workplace. By the early 1990s the use of computers in the workplace reached a per capita penetration that the telephone took 75 years to achieve (Webster & Martocchio, 1992). During the past several decades, there has been both speculation and hard research related to the psychological effects of computer technology. More recently the role of attitudes towards computers in influencing the acceptance and use of computer-based management information systems (MIS) has been highlighted by a growing number of MIS researchers. Generally, these studies focus on the negative attitudes towards computers and concerns about the impact of MIS on individual performance in the workplace. Computer anxiety has been reported to be associated with negative attitudes towards computers. As computers play a pervasive role in MIS and decision support systems, these findings emphasize the need for additional empirical research on the determinants of computer anxiety and attitudes towards computers. Furthermore, with the increasing participation of women in information technology professions, important questions are whether men and women differ with regard to computer anxiety and attitudes towards computers, and what factors explain such differences where they exist, and how to ameliorate anxiety where it occurs.
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Introduction

Because of their ability to enhance productivity, computers have become ubiquitous in the workplace. By the early 1990s the use of computers in the workplace reached a per capita penetration that the telephone took 75 years to achieve (Webster & Martocchio, 1992). During the past several decades, there has been both speculation and hard research related to the psychological effects of computer technology. More recently the role of attitudes towards computers in influencing the acceptance and use of computer-based management information systems (MIS) has been highlighted by a growing number of MIS researchers. Generally, these studies focus on the negative attitudes towards computers and concerns about the impact of MIS on individual performance in the workplace.

Computer anxiety has been reported to be associated with negative attitudes towards computers. As computers play a pervasive role in MIS and decision support systems, these findings emphasize the need for additional empirical research on the determinants of computer anxiety and attitudes towards computers. Furthermore, with the increasing participation of women in information technology professions, important questions are whether men and women differ with regard to computer anxiety and attitudes towards computers, and what factors explain such differences where they exist, and how to ameliorate anxiety where it occurs.

The Concept and Correlates of Computer Anxiety

Much has been speculated about computer anxiety, both what it is and what to do about it. Computer anxiety is context specific and covers a wide variety of situations in which people interact with computers. Context-specific anxiety tests ask the question: “How do you feel when a specific type of situation occurs?” Commonly, the relationship between a measure of computer anxiety and other variables is examined. For example, the relationship of computer anxiety to computer-related experience has historically been a hotly contested question in MIS research, human-computer interaction (HCI), and educational psychology. Demographic variables posited or found to be related to computer anxiety include gender, age, organizational level, and academic major (Dambrot, Watkins-Malek, Silling, Marshall & Garver, 1985; Gutek & Bikson, 1985; Zmud, 1979). Personality variables examined as potential determinants of computer anxiety include trait anxiety, math anxiety, cognitive style, and locus of control (Howard & Smith, 1986; Igbaria & Parasuraman, 1989; Morrow, Prell & McElroy, 1986). Additionally, several studies have examined the relationship between computer anxiety and academic achievement. For example, Hayek and Stephens (1989) and Marcoulides (1988) reported significantly lower computer anxiety being associated with higher academic achievement.

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Background

Initially, computer anxiety became of interest during the technological revolution. In 1963 a social psychologist at IBM completed a nationwide study to examine popular beliefs and attitudes about one of the prime symbols of our rapidly changing technology—the electronic computer. Lee’s (1970) findings concluded that the American public viewed computers on two independent dimensions. The first dimension, the “Beneficial Tool of Mankind Perspective,” described a positively toned set of beliefs that computers are beneficial in science, industry, and business. The second dimension, the “Awesome Thinking Machine Perspective,” connoted fear of an incomprehensibly complex machine with capabilities far exceeding those of a human. This perspective, which reflects ignorance about the capabilities and limitations of computers, is one of the generic origins of computer anxiety.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Locus of Control: Individuals’ perceptions of whether they themselves influence events and outcomes in their lives (internal control), or that events and outcomes are influenced by factors such as luck, fate, chance, or powerful others (external control). Locus of control is considered a trait characteristic that is unlikely to change significantly in an individual’s lifetime.

Computer Self-Efficacy: Computer self-confidence or perceptions of ability. Beliefs about one’s ability to perform a specific behavior or task on a computer.

Technology Acceptance Model (TAM): A causal model hypothesizing that actual information technology system use is affected by behavioral intentions that themselves are affected by attitudes toward use. Beliefs about the system, perceived usefulness, and perceived ease of use in TAM directly affect attitudes toward use ( Davis, 1989 ).

Computer Anxiety: The tendency of a particular individual to experience a level of uneasiness over his or her impending use of a computer, which is disproportionate to the actual threat presented by the computer. Computer anxiety, defined by Raub (1981) , is “the complex emotional reactions that are evoked in individuals who interpret computers as personally threatening.”

Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB): Defines relationships among beliefs, attitude toward a behavior, subjective norm, perceived behavioral control, behavioral intention, and behavior. The theory has been widely applied across a range of disciplines such as marketing, consumer and leisure behavior, medicine, and information technology. When applied in technology adoption and usage contexts, TPB explains an individual’s adoption of new technologies ( Ajzen, 1991 ).

Perceived Ease of Use (PEOU): The degree to which an individual believes that using a particular information technology system would be free of effort. An application perceived to be easier to use than another is more likely to be accepted by users ( Davis, 1989 ).

Technology Profile Inventory (TPI): A psychological instrument that generates technology profiles to predict how individuals are likely to respond to various aspects of information technology. The ability to profile information technology users facilitates the design of software capable of dynamic personalization ( DeYoung & Spence, 2004 ).

Perceived Usefulness (PU): The degree to which an individual believes that using a particular information technology system would enhance his or her job performance. A system high in perceived usefulness is one that a user believes has a positive usage to performance relationship ( Davis, 1989 ).

Cognitive Style: Information processing habits that represent an individual’s typical modes of perceiving, thinking, remembering, and problem solving. Various cognitive styles have been identified, measured, and shown to affect the manner in which individuals perceive their environments. As just one example, two such styles are field-independence and field-dependence. Field-independent individuals perceive objects as separate from the field, impose personal structures on the environment, set self-defined goals, work alone, choose to deal with abstract subject matter, are socially detached and rely on their own values, and are self-reinforcing. In contrast, field-dependent individuals tend to rely on the environment for clues about an object, prefer a structure provided by the environment, experience the environment more globally, are interested in people, use externally defined goals, receive reinforcement from others, focus on socially oriented subject matter, and prefer to work with others ( Riding & Rayner, 1998 ; Witkin, Moore, Goodenough & Cox, 1977 ).

Computer Anxiety Rating Scale (CARS): A self-report inventory consisting of 10 statements designed to measure computer anxiety. The scale comprises a mix of anxiety-specific statements (e.g., “I feel apprehensive about using the computer”) and positive statements (e.g., “I am confident that I could learn computer skills”) ( Raub, 1981 ).

Social Presence/Information Richness Factor (SPIR): A factor appended to TAM derived from Hofstede’s (1980) work on dimensions of cultural differences among countries that include a disposition toward masculine attitudes and other behavioral indexes. The extension combines perceived social presence and the sense of human contact embodied in a medium with the information richness of the medium ( Straub, 1994 ).

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