Stress, Attitudes, and Personality in Computing


Vangelis Giannoutsos


The present work is concerned with the initial attitudes of users towards computers, the relation of these attitudes to prior experience, stress, performance and the personality of the individual, and the extent to which changes come about as the result of experience gained from a type of computer course. The extent to which individuals found computing stressful is investigated. Studies were conducted employing questionnaire methods to provide data, over a three year period, on three cohorts of students taking psychology practical sessions which had a computing component.

The first part of this work deals with atttitudes and anxiety towards computers in relation to experience in computing. Relevant studies in the literature have either correlated computer users’ prior experinece with their attitude/anxiety scores or measured changes in computer attitude/anxiety levels as a consequence of completing some type of computer course. The present work is an attempt to cover both: firstly, it examines and discusses the relationship between users’ reported amount of prior computer experience and their attitude/anxiety towards computers; second, it assesses changes in computer attitude and anxiety as a result of the completion of a course in computing.

In this context, the main hypotheses were: a) that there will be a positive relation between computer attitude and amount of prior computer experience, and a negative relation between computer anxiety and computer experience; and b) that computing experience gained from a course in computing will improve attitudes and reduce computer anxiety. It was found that subjects with the greater prior computer experience did indeed have more positive attitudes and lower levels of anxiety compared to those subjects with less experience. However, attitude scores decreased over the duration of the computing course, in that the higher the prior experience the more the decrease.

The second part of this work deals with stress in computing experienced during users’ interaction with computers. Performance in computing as well as the impact of prior computing experience on stress and performance were examined. In addition, the relationship of stress and performance to computer attitudes and anxiety was investigated. These variables and their relationships have been examined by a very limited number of studies(e.g. Hudiburg’s studies have looked at stress in computing). Their results were varied and sometimes contradictory. The present work is a fresh look at these variables as well as an attempt to examine the variables themselves and their relationships within the same study. Moreover, this work examines the impact of actual computer operations on the stress levels of the users by measuring stress before and each computer session within a course in computing.

In this context, the main hypotheses were: a) that a computer session will change levels of stress of the users; b) that prior computing experience will be negatively related to computer stress and positively related to performance; c) that computer attitude will be negatively related to stress and positively related to performance, while computer anxiety will be positively related to stress and negatively related to performance.However, only a transient effect of a computing session on experienced stress was found. Subjects with greater prior experience and more positive attitudes towards computers had lower levels of stress before and after computer sessions. And subjects with lower levels of computer anxiety had also lower stress levels before and after computer sessions. No effects of prior computer experience were found on computer performance, but there was a positive effect of attitude and a negative effect of anxiety on performance. A series of multiple regressions indicated that the main attitudinal predictor of computer related stress was computer confidence, whereas the key predicting variable of anticipatory stress (i.e. stress before computer operation) was computer anxiety.

The third part of this work deals with the personality variables of locus of control, extraversion, neuroticism, and A typology in relation to computer attitudes, anxiety, stress, performance, and prior experience. Relatively little research has been conducted to examine the relationships and interplay among these variables. As before, the findings are varied and sometimes contradictory. This study has two aims: firstly to assesses the correlation between personality variables, and computer attitudes, anxiety, stress, performance and prior experience; second to examine the contribution of personality variables to the variance of stress and performance over and above computer attitudes.

The main hypotheses were: a) that personality dimensions relate either positively or negatively to computer attitudes and computer anxiety; b) that personality dimensions relate to stress before and after computer sessions; c) that personality dimensions relate to performance in computing.

Two measures of Locus of Control were used and correlations suggested that internals were likely to have more positive attitude, experience lower levels of stress and perform better than externals. Higher levels of neuroticism were associated with less favourable attitude and higher levels of stress – although not with performance. Higher extraversion was associated with lower levels of computer anxiety and anticipatory stress. Finally, higher Type A scores were found to be associated mainly with more positive attitude.

A series of multiple regressions suggested that experience explains more variation in attitudes than locus of control. Another series of multiple regressions, using as independent variables attitude and personality variables together, suggested that it is mainly attitude (confidence and anxiety) that accounts for most of the variance in stress.

Results are discussed in the context of relevant literature, and the relationships between attitude and different aspects of experience as well as between attitude and personality are emphasised.

A possible discussion that may arise within the context of this paper could be about the extent to which the findings of this study can be compared to similar studies regarding the use of technology other than computer technology; and the extent to which conclusions about the users’ attitude show either the uniqueness of computer technology or its similarity to other technologies.

So are attitudes and associated anxiety toward computing unique, or are similar difficulties encountered with other forms of technology such as motor cars or even microwave ovens? Computer technology and computing is not simply a matter of operation of machinery, but unlike other types of technology might be thought of as an issue of a user’s literacy. In this context, computer technology and computing are related to a user’s knowledge and understanding rather than the operation of some kind of technology.

This is probably one of the main reasons that, within the relevant literature, computing (literacy) appears to be associated with Maths (literacy). Indeed, some initial research on computer attitudes and computer anxiety took, as a starting point, the related issues of attitudes towards and anxiety about mathematics. And some research on the correlates of attitudes towards maths and on the treatment of maths negative attitudes and anxiety have, to a certain extent, provided clues in identifying and examining correlates and treatment of computer attitudes and anxiety.

In particular, test anxiety and trait anxiety have been found to correlate strongly with both maths anxiety and computer anxiety. In addition, similarly to the correlates of computer attitudes, some of the correlates of attitudes towards mathematics have been reported to be anxiety, experience, achievement, performance, sex, and age (e.g. Themes, 1982, etc).

Moreover, measures of maths attitudes and anxiety have contributed to the design and development of computer attitudes and anxiety instruments. For example, Raub (1981), in her study of computer anxiety, attitudes and their correlates, used Fennema and Sherman’s (1976) Mathematics Attitude Scale (MAS) as a guide in order to develop a measure for assessing computer anxiety. Similarly, the Computer Anxiety Rating Scale (CARS, Rosen and Sears, 1984; Marcoulides, 1985) was designed along the lines of the Mathematics Anxiety Rating Scale (MARS, Richardson and Suinn, 1972).

In the context of identifying computing as an issue of literacy rather than operation, one of the main social consequences may be the need not only to make computers more usable in everyday lives for all, but also to further proliferate computers and make them more accessible to the poorer parts of the society. Similarly to the problem regarding the gap between the financially poor and rich, there is an increasing concern about the difference between information ‘poverty’ and information ‘richness’. Thus, an important ethical implication may be the problem of how to improve computer literacy and provision of information among the ‘knowledge poor’ elements of the society in order to provide them with as equal as possible chances for personal and professional development.