Article from ejc/rec
Volume 12 Numbers 1 & 2, 2002
THE EFFECTS OF
COMPUTER ANXIETY AND COMMUNICATION APPREHENSION
ON THE ADOPTION AND
UTILIZATION OF THE INTERNET
Steven C. Rockwell
University of South Alabama
University of Alabama
Abstract. Even while the cost
of Internet access continues to drop, one-third of U.S. homes are expected to
reject this technology. This study
suggests that psychological barriers such as computer anxiety and communication
apprehension might offer some insight into the reasons for this rejection. Internet usage patterns of 249 survey
respondents were monitored for a one-year period. Results suggest that those with high levels of computer anxiety
are less likely to use the Internet at all while those with high levels of
communication apprehension reported that they were less likely to use Internet
services that involve interpersonal communication. Further, the results suggest that experience with the Internet
appears to increase the amount of time spent on-line. The implications of these findings for policy makers are
Psychological barriers to adoption might be suggested as a
reason why some individuals would resist adopting and using the Internet even
when cost or access are not issues for them.
For example, a psychological barrier that has received considerable
scholarly attention is that of computer anxiety, the reported fear or
discomfort experienced while using computers (e.g. Artwohl,
1989; Balance & Rogers, 1991; DeLoughry, 1993; Fariña, Arce, Sobral
& Carames, 1991; Honeyman & White, 1987; Howard, Murphy & Thomas, 1986; Hudiburg,
1989; Lambert & Lenthall, 1989; Leso
& Peck, 1992; Murrell & Sprinkle, 1993; Raub, 1981; Reed & Palumbo, 1988; Rosen & Maguire, 1990).
As pointed out by Okebukola, Sumampouw, and Jegede (1992),
those experiencing computer anxiety will often choose not to use a computer
when given a choice. Since a majority
of Internet users currently access the Internet via a computer, those
individuals experiencing computer anxiety might choose not to use a computer
and, therefore, in turn, be cut off from accessing the Internet.
However, while the Internet today is typically accessed
using a personal computer, and psychological barriers to personal computer use
could impede Internet use, the Internet is expected increasingly to be accessed
by technology that bears little or no resemblance to a traditional personal
computer: cable television set-top boxes, “smart telephones” and pocket-sized,
hand-held digital devices. Consequently, conventional computer anxiety might
account for only part of the psychological resistance to adoption, especially
five years from now. Resistance to
Internet adoption could arguably have some additional psychological basis
beyond computer anxiety.
It has been suggested that task anxiety, rather than
computer anxiety per se, might account for at least some anxiety people experience
when doing various types of work with computers, such as a student using a
word-processing program to write a research paper (Reinsch,
1985). That is, nervousness using the computer stems primarily from the
task undertaken, such as writing the paper, rather than the use of the computer
itself. This would suggest that perhaps
task-related anxiety, especially anxiety associated with a communication event,
might be associated with some aspects of Internet use.
Like the personal computer, the Internet is also a
task-oriented technology. It is a
communication infrastructure that uses a variety of communication hardware,
software and data transmission protocols to send and receive text, graphics,
audio and video. Use of the Internet is essentially the accomplishment of
various communication tasks and it has been demonstrated that Internet use can,
for some people, be associated with communication-task-related anxiety. For example, communication apprehension has
been demonstrated to predict the likelihood of using on-line services such as
the Internet (Scott & Rockwell, 1997).
Apart from the impact both computer anxiety and
communication apprehension have on the amount of time spent using the Internet,
this study also examines how experience with various computer and communication
technologies might mitigate any psychological barriers and lead to increased
levels of Internet use.
This study is based on field data collected by tracking
time spent on the Internet by individuals categorized as to their self-reported
levels of computer anxiety and communication apprehension. The study period was one year in duration.
Computer anxiety is a term widely used to
describe the fear or apprehension experienced by certain individuals when using
or considering using a computer. Much
of the research in the area of computer anxiety examines the relationship
between computer anxiety and experience level with computers. Many of these studies suggest that increased
levels of computing experience lead to lower levels of computer anxiety (e.g. Fariña, Arce, Sobral, & Carames, 1991; Lambert,
Lewis, & Lenthall, 1989; Liu, Reed, & Phillips, 1990;
Loyd & Gressard, 1984; Raub, 1981). Scott and
Rockwell (1997) suggest that computer anxiety is a
significant predictor of the future use of a wide range of interactive
communication technologies, including the Internet.
However, some studies have failed to support these findings,
reporting non-existent or weak relationships between computer anxiety and
experience levels (Sears; Marcoulides,
1988). Others, such as Gos (1996), offer support for the task anxiety model first posited
by Reinsch (1985).
This model suggests that it is not a general anxiety toward computers,
but, anxiety toward performing specific tasks on a computer, e.g., programming
or interpersonal communication.
Communication apprehension is an individual trait
characterized by fear or anxiety when contemplating or engaging in some type of
communication with other people (McCroskey, 1978).
This research has dealt primarily with oral communication apprehension (McCroskey, 1984).
However, it typically suggests that individuals exhibiting high degrees
of apprehension about communication are less likely to engage in any type of
communication. An Internet user can
engage in a variety of activities such as viewing a web page, sending or
receiving e-mail, engaging in real-time text- or voice-based chat, transferring
information from one location to another, participating in a videoconference
and viewing or listening to audio-visual materials. Such tasks involve aspects of interpersonal communication and
thus could be associated with some type of communication apprehension. Scott and Rockwell (1997)
found a significant negative correlation between communication apprehension and
the likelihood of using any kind of online service. This would suggest that communication apprehension might affect
the use of forms of interpersonal communication beyond face-to-face, oral
communication; in particular, the Internet and especially the more immediate
forms of Internet communication, such as Internet relay chat (IRC) and
multi-user domains (MUDs).
If communication apprehension can be associated with using the
interpersonal communication capabilities of the Internet, then individuals
exhibiting high degrees of communication apprehension should be more likely to
avoid these activities. Moreover, since it has been suggested that the primary
use of the Internet in the home is for interpersonal communication (Kraut, Mukopadhyay, Szcypula, Kiesler, & Scherlis, 1998; Survey, 1999), the communication anxious should spend less
time, overall, online.
Scott and Rockwell (1997) illustrated that experience can
serve as a predictor “above and beyond” other anxiety/apprehension
measures. Therefore, experience with a
technology can lessen the impact of any access issues stemming from a sense of
anxiety with the technology. In the present
investigation, support for the experience factor would provide evidence that
remediation strategies for the digital divide need to provide more than just
access alone. Training or orientation
sessions, by providing experience with computers and the Internet, would help
ease any access limitations based on psychological barriers.
Based on the above discussion, it would appear that those
exhibiting higher levels of computer anxiety would be less likely to feel
comfortable using a computer to gain access to the Internet. Since the Internet
usage tracked in this study was predicated on the use of a computer, no
alternate means of access was available, the following hypothesis was
H1: Increased computer anxiety will result in decreased amounts
of time spent on the Internet.
Moreover, since it is argued that Internet anxiety levels
might be a function of communication task anxiety, and once on-line this type
of anxiety might better explain differences in the amount of time spent using
the Internet, the following hypotheses were formulated.
H2a: Increased communication apprehension will result in
decreased amounts of time spent on the Internet.
H2b: Increased communication apprehension will result in
decreased reported likelihood to use various services offered on the Internet,
especially those involving interpersonal communication.
Additionally, based on findings by Scott and Rockwell (1997), regarding previous experience with a technology as a
strong predictor of its future use, offering explanatory power above computer
anxiety level alone, the following hypothesis was formulated.
H3: Individuals with prior Internet experience will use
the Internet more than those without prior experience, regardless of anxiety
Sample and Procedure
Free Internet access service sponsored by the local
community was made available to all citizens of a small southeastern city of
6800. They had a choice of either
signing up for Internet access through public terminals in the local library or
for a free dial-up account via a modem from their home. Completion of an account request form was
required before an account could be established at either location. Each registrant was also asked to complete a
survey that was attached to the account request form. Instructions on the survey instrument informed the registrants
about the confidential and voluntary nature of the survey. The forms were made available to registrants
at the local library and at City Hall.
All registrants, a total of 249, completed the survey’s
general demographic questions, technology apprehension and communication
apprehension measures, and questions regarding their level of experience with
the Internet and other information technologies and their expectations
regarding their Internet use. Each
registrant's actual time spent on line was then tracked for the one-year
duration of the study. Library users
were tracked using sign-up logs maintained by library staff; home users through
authentication and tracking software installed on the project's remote access
Computer/Technology anxiety was measured with a modified
version of Raub's (1981) 10-item measure which has been
previously shown to be acceptably reliable with alphas ranging from .81 to .86
(Howard & Smith, 1986; Ray &
Minch, 1990; Fariña et al., 1991). The questions were left intact, but the
response options were modified to a five-point, Likert-type scale with response
options ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree. Communication apprehension was measured with
a version of McCroskey's (1970) 10-item personal report
of communication apprehension (PRCA), using the same modifications as the
anxiety measures. Overall levels of
communication apprehension and computer/technology apprehension were derived by
summing responses for each scale and dividing by the total number of questions
in each scale.
Level of experience with the Internet was assessed via a
single item where respondents indicated whether they had previously used the
Internet or had an Internet account. To
assess respondents’ experience with computers, they were asked whether they had
any previous computer experience and whether they owned a home computer.
Respondents’ likelihood to use various
communication-related Internet services was assessed using a series of three
items asking how likely they were to use e-mail, join an on-line discussion
group, or to take part in an on-line chat session. Other questions dealing with both traditional
interpersonal-related communication situations and to technology related,
non-communication situations were included in the questionnaire for validity
purposes. These additional included
items were: How likely are you, to give a speech to a group of people, use a
computer to word process a document, view a program on a VCR, and record a
program on a VCR. Respondents answered
via a five-point, Likert-type scale with response options ranging from very
unlikely to very likely. Respondents’
amount of time spent online was tracked for the one-year duration of the study.
Additional demographic data were also collected.
Hypotheses 1, 2a and 2b were tested via correlation
analysis. For hypothesis 1, correlation coefficients were calculated between
participants’ computer anxiety scores and their average time spent using the
Internet. For hypothesis 2a,
participants’ communication apprehension scores were correlated with their
average time spent using on-line. After
the data were collected, it was discovered that of the 249 individuals who
completed a questionnaire, only 116 of these actually used the Internet during
the one-year duration of the study. It
was then decided to examine the relationship posited by hypotheses 1 and 2a
further by examining the relationship between computer anxiety and
communication apprehension between Internet users and non-users. Analysis of variance was used to test these
For hypothesis 2b, participants’ communication
apprehension scores were correlated with the four questions designed to measure
likelihood to use various Internet services.
Hypothesis 3 was tested using a two-way analysis of variance with
average Internet use serving as the dependent measure and previous Internet
experience (none, used it before but not had an Internet account, have or had
an Internet account) and participants’ level of computer anxiety (high = top
half computer anxiety scores, low = bottom half computer anxiety scores)
serving as the independent measures.
Significance for all procedures was set at an alpha level of p<05.
A total of 249 participants requested Internet service and
filled out the questionnaire during the study period. Of these, 116 participants successfully used the Internet while
the remaining 133 never attempted to gain access. Participants who used the
Internet did so for an average of 3.09 hours per month. One-half (50%) of
participants were female with 45% of this group actually using the Internet.
Fifty-five percent of the male participants used the Internet during the study
period. The average age of the participants
was 42.96 years. Ninety-one percent of
the participants reported having at least some computer experience. Regarding previous Internet experience, 63%
of the participants reported having no previous experience with the Internet,
21% reported having prior experience, but never having their own Internet
account, and 16% reported having had an Internet account previous to taking
part in the study.
Applying the usual rule of thumb
of about 2.5 persons per average household, and assuming that the registrants
all came from separate households, then roughly speaking, the registrants
represented about 10 percent of the city’s households. As might be expected from national adoption
patterns, the registrants had considerably higher incomes than the city population
as a whole. Registrants had a median income 69% higher than the city
median income. Interestingly, this income disparity between registrants and the
city population appeared here regardless of the service being offered at no
charge. A free service would presumably
help to overcome income as a barrier to adoption and produce a group of
registrants with a median income more nearly resembling the city’s median
income. However, even with a free
service available, registrants tended to have substantially higher incomes than
the city in general.
Registrants were predominantly
college educated, while most of the city’s residents typically attain high
school diplomas, at most. Ethnically,
compared to the city population, whites were over represented among the
registrants and blacks under represented.
Although ethnicity differed, there was not a statistically significant
difference in the gender makeup of registrants compared to the city population. Overall, the income, education and ethnic
differences between the registrants and the city population echo familiar
patterns documented many times in other studies and in the popular press
regarding use of the Internet (Belluck, 1999; Hafner, 2000; Stepanek, M., 1999).
Participants exhibited a wide range of computer anxiety
and communication apprehension scores.
Computer anxiety scores ranged from 1.0 to 4.4 with an average score of
1.8 while communication apprehension ranged from 1.0 to 4.7 with an average
score of 2.6. Scale reliabilities were
acceptable for both computer anxiety (alpha = .83) and communication
apprehension (alpha = .87).
Hypothesis 1 asserted that increased levels of computer
anxiety would be associated with decreased amounts of time spent on the
Internet. Among Internet users there was a slight negative correlation (r = -.074)
between these variables, but this correlation did not prove significant (p =
.443). Computer anxiety, then, did not
appear related to the amount of time the Internet was used by those
participants who did use it.
Using analysis of variance, computer anxiety scores of
these Internet users were compared to the computer anxiety scores of the 133
participants who had signed up for service but never accessed the Internet
during the study period. Internet users
exhibited a significantly lower (F (1,229) = 5.73, p = .018) computer anxiety
score (M = 1.73) compared to non-users (1.95).
Although Internet users were not significantly differentiated on the
amount of time they spent on-line based on their computer anxiety scores,
participants who requested service but did not use the Internet during the
study period exhibited significantly higher levels of computer anxiety,
compared to their Internet-using counterparts.
Thus, the first hypothesis was partially supported.
Hypothesis 2a maintained that increased levels of
communication apprehension would be associated with decreased amounts of time
spent on the Internet. The correlation
between these variables (r = -.036) among the participants who actually used
the Internet did not prove to be significant (p = .582).
An analysis of variance was also performed comparing these
Internet users and the non-users to compare their levels of communication
apprehension. The difference between
Internet users (M = 25.71) and non-users (M=26.01) as to level of communication
apprehension was not significant (F (1,231) = .078, p = .780). Hypothesis 2a, therefore, was not supported.
Hypothesis 2b posited that increased levels of
communication apprehension would be negatively correlated with self-reported
likelihood to use Internet services such as e-mail and newsgroups that involve
interpersonal forms of communication.
As expected, communication apprehension was negatively correlated to
these variables (see Table 1).
Table 1.Correlations of Communication Apprehension with
Likelihood to Use Internet and Non-Internet Technologies
On-line Chat -.260**
On-line Discussion Group -.154*
Word Processor -.168*
View a Program on a VCR -.120
Record a Program on a VCR -.074
Give a Speech -.682**
p < .05, ** p < .01.
The strongest negative correlation was between
communication anxiety and giving a speech in public (r= -.682), a validation of
the intended use of the communication apprehension scale to measure the anxiety
felt in oral communication situations.
However, significant negative correlations also emerged for the included
Internet related communication situations: likelihood to use e-mail (r =
-.243), to take part in an on-line chat
session (r = -.260), and to join an on-line discussion group (r = -.164). No other significant correlations emerged in the analysis. Thus, hypothesis 2b was supported.
Hypothesis 3 stated that individuals with prior Internet
experience would use the Internet more than those without prior experience,
regardless of anxiety level. To explore
this hypothesis, participants were sorted into one of three groups based on
their reported level of experience with the Internet: no prior Internet
experience, previous Internet experience without an Internet account, and
Internet experience using an account.
An analysis of variance was then performed comparing these groups on the
average amount of time they spent using the Internet. This comparison was significant (F (2,244) = 3.056, p =
.049). In this analysis, only the
participants who had an Internet account previous to the study used the
Internet significantly more (M = 2.49), on average, than participants with no
prior Internet experience (M = 1.15) (see Table 2). Participants with prior experience, but no account, fell in
between the other groups (M = 1.63) and failed to differentiate significantly
from either of these groups. The
interaction between computer anxiety level (high, low) and previous Internet
experience was not significant (F (2,244) = .781, p = .459) for this
analysis. Thus, hypothesis 3 was
Table 2. Average Time Spent using the Internet Based on
No Experience/ Previous
Experience No Internet
Account Internet Account
1.46a 1.63ab 2.49b
Note. Means having no subscripts in common differ significantly at
p<.05 by LSD
The results in this study would seem to suggest that the
‘digital divide’—at least in this study’s setting—involves two divides or
barriers. The first is the divide
between the city population as a whole and the portion that signed up for free
Internet service. Few citizens took up the free Internet access offer to begin
with. Those who did were not
representative of most of the population.
They were certainly not representative of lower-income, lower educated
citizens. This divide is characterized by a difference in income, ethnicity and
education between those who signed up and those who didn’t. Registrants as a group were better educated
and had substantially higher income than their city population. There is other research that suggests that
the disproportionately high level of whites to African Americans among the
city’s registrants may be an artifact of income (Novak and
Hoffman, 1998). This income and education disparity
between registrants and the city population is the same divide that has caught
the attention of policy makers nationally and sparked substantial debate.
The second divide suggested by this study is the divide
within the registrant group, between those who actually took the final step of
using the service and those who did not.
This divide represents a much different type of barrier than the first
divide. It is not directly predictable
by the demographic characteristics that correlate with the first divide. Rather, this second divide is based in a
psychological condition, the degree of fear of, or at least discomfort with,
computer technology. This difference in
comfort levels was the only variable that was related to actual use of the
Internet to a statistically significant degree. Each of these divides represents a significant problem for
programs and policy-makers intent on narrowing the digital divide.
The second divide is more subtle, because in a sense, it
is self-imposed. The data suggest that,
even among people who are willing to sign up for free Internet service, a
substantial number will fail to actually take the next step and put it to
use. These Individuals, typified by a
higher degree of computer anxiety, were significantly less likely to use the
Internet at all during the study period.
Thus, it appears that computer anxiety can be a rather strong inhibitor
of adoption and needs to be
carefully considered when assisting individuals exhibiting high levels of this
anxiety with their initial ventures into cyberspace.
Further, in this study, previous experience with computers
seemed to have little impact on lessening computer anxiety. Most of the study’s participants (91%)
reported having prior computer experience, yet there were clear distinctions
between the computer anxiety scores of Internet users and non-users. This would appear to lend support to
previous studies (e.g., Rosen, Sears, & Weil, 1987; Marcoulides, 1988) that also failed to find a
relationship between computer anxiety and experience.
However, previous experience with the Internet did appear
to affect the amount of time participants spent using the Internet. Participants who had previously had an
account through an Internet service provider spent more time on-line than those
without previous Internet experience did.
The participants’ level of computer anxiety did not seem to affect this
relationship. Since it is logical to
assume that participants who previously had Internet accounts had more Internet
experience than other participants, it would appear that by increasing exposure
to, and thus experience with, the Internet, the barrier to entry created by
elevated levels of computer anxiety might be overcome.
Communication anxiety did not offer any explanatory power
about differences in the amount of time spent on-line or even whether a
participant used the Internet at all during the study period. However, it did seem to offer some insight
into the types of services participants exhibiting high levels of this trait
were likely to avoid. These individuals
reported that they were less likely than their low communication apprehension
counterparts to use Internet services that involve interpersonal
communication. However, since this
study was not able to track what types of Internet services participants
utilized, it is impossible to tell if high communication apprehensives avoided
these services and spent their time using other services that did not appear to
be high in interpersonal communication or simply overcame their reticence once
on-line. Regardless of the explanation
of these findings, this study does lend support to the notion that McCroskey’s
(1970) communication anxiety scale can be extended
to measure this trait in interpersonal communication situations beyond oral,
This study strongly suggests that technology apprehension
is a real component of the complex phenomenon of Internet adoption and
use. It might also help to explain why
so many residents failed to register in the first place. It is a worthwhile subject of study in
determining why people who have access to the Internet fail to take it up. Clearly, as access becomes more widely
available under various foundation and government supported programs, questions
will arise regarding the dynamics of adoption that go beyond the cost of
technology. The presence of the
computer technology apprehension phenomenon and its possible role in rejection
of the Internet when access is available, suggests that public policy designed
to achieve high levels of Internet access and use, based on a technology-push
model (“build it and they will come”) will only partially succeed in the goal
of bridging the digital divide.
Because of the necessary constraints on data collection in
the design of this project, a precise answer as to how best and most
efficiently to overcome the computer technology apprehension barrier must await
further research. Further, because the
study only involved a population of volunteer registrants from a small town in
the Southeastern U.S., the generalizability of the results to other populations
is limited. If possible, future studies
might want to use random sampling techniques from user populations with
divergent geographic and socioeconomic backgrounds. However, the results suggest, at least for the population tested,
that orientation and instruction that de-mystifies the Internet and makes it a
friendlier environment for first-time users could help ensure that they
actually utilize the Internet when it is accessible. Only then can they begin to derive the educational and economic
benefits being touted by Internet access proponents.
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