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Research Brief: What Makes You a Computer Warrior or Wimp?

Culture plays a surprising role in how confident we are using computers

Research Brief: What Makes You a Computer Warrior or Wimp?

What did the study look at?

For most of us, computers are essential work tools, but that doesn’t mean we’re all comfortable around them. “Computer self-efficacy” (CSE) — our judgment of how competent we are to use computer hardware and software — varies widely and can affect job performance and organizational productivity. Existing theories used to explain how self-efficacy beliefs are shaped and why they vary could be improved. To fill in the gaps, this study focuses on the role of culture (country membership and individualism), task characteristics, software complexity, and personal characteristics (personal innovativeness and software experience) in shaping computer self-efficacy.

How was the study designed?

Researchers conducted a web-based survey of 228 employees who used computers in two different countries: Spain and the U.S. These countries were selected because there are comparable in terms of development yet have national cultures with divergent views on individualism. Americans are expected to look after themselves and give priority to personal goals, for example, while Spaniards place greater importance on shared goals and interests. As well, Spaniards tend to be more tolerant of unequal distribution of power than Americans but feel less comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity.

What did the study find?

  • Cultural, task, software, and personal factors all significantly influence computer self-efficacy beliefs.
  • Task ambiguity (when expectations are unclear) and the personal willingness to try new information technologies), in particular, are critical in assessing CSE beliefs.
  • A preference for individualism, task interdependence, and willingness to try new technologies bolster computer self-efficacy. Task ambiguity and software complexity both have the opposite effect.
  • Culture affects CSE indirectly through employees’ preferences for individualism and task interdependence.

What do I need to know?

Computer self-efficacy strongly determines how well individuals perform on computers and their willingness to use a particular technology, making it an important consideration for human resources practitioners.

Given the increasing multicultural make-up of our workplaces and the role of culture in shaping how confident we are in using information technologies, managers in culturally diverse units should consider “the individualistic or collectivistic nature of the national culture of their employees and foster independent or interdependent tasks to enhance their CSE,” the researchers say. “In culturally diverse departments and teams, managers could design a balance of interdependent tasks and individual responsibilities in order to enhance their employees’ beliefs in their computer skills.”

Similarly, HR practitioners should consider culture when administering employee assessments of computer skills.

With task ambiguity having a negative influence on how confident people are in their computer skills, managers can help employees by clarifying ill-defined goals and vague tasks and fostering an atmosphere that allows for questioning, according to the researchers.

Finally, software training can be better targeted based on an individual’s willingness to try new technology. “For employees with high personal innovativeness, training emphasizing the novel characteristics of software and encouraging exploration behaviors could be used,” the researchers note. “Another option would be to direct these employees to self-directed training. In contrast, for employees with low software personal innovativeness, hands-on training providing support for learning software functionality could be put into place.”



Title: The missing links: cultural, software, task and personal influences on computer self-efficacy

Authors: Ana Ortiz de Guinea (HÉC Montréal), Jane Webster (Smith School of Business, Queen's University)

Published: The International Journal of Human Resource Management (2015, Vol. 26, No. 7, 905–931)

Alan Morantz