Does Cognitive Function Predict Self-Reported Ability to Use Computers?

The world is rapidly becoming digital. But what about those who, for whatever reason, find it hard to access digital services? In order to understand how best to support this group of people, we need to first of all seek to find out who they are.

In this study, we used computer self-efficacy (people’s self-reported ability to use computers) as a proxy marker – those who feel less able to cope with computers are more likely to feel “digitally left behind”. We leveraged the large, well-curated SHARE data set, a comprehensive survey of health, ageing, and retirement which includes data on socioeconomic circumstances as well as health, IT use, and cognition. We were particularly interested in the extent to which lower cognitive abilities (assessed using memory and semantic fluency) might be associated with feeling “left behind”.

However, in our analysis, we found that the single most important predictor of feeling digitally left behind, feeling unable to use technology, was prior experience with using computers in their job before retirement. We also saw effects of gender (women feeling more left behind than men), location (people in rural areas feeling more left behind than people in urban areas), and ability to make ends meet (poorer people feeling more left behind).

As these findings suggest, there are no simple causal connections here. First of all, this is self-rated ability, which always diverges from actual ability, secondly, well-educated male city dwellers who are well off are more likely to have had white collar jobs that require IT use, and finally, the model we used for our analysis did not include any interactions.

Our next steps are to refine the model, and to construct country-specific models. Initial investigations by Yifeng Gao in his Master’s Thesis suggest that the contributions of each of the factors may vary quite substantially between countries.

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R1: digitally left behind:

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R2: trend towards digital

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R3: reasons for problems with using technology

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R5: normalisation method

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R6: people may not realise how well they are doing

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