RESPONSE TIME & COMPUTER ANGST

9. September 2006, 21:04 | by WD Milner | Full Article |

When a researcher at the University of Texas at Arlington, J.L. Guynes, started looking at how different people react to a slow computer, she thought that the greatest frustrations would be experienced by Type ‘A’ personalities. Her comment was, “You can tell them by the way they bang on their keyboards.”

As it turned out, her initial assumption was wrong. Everyone’s anxiety and frustration levels rose to statistically significant high levels when confronted with slow or inconsistent system responses times. She recalled, “Even some of the more laid-back Type ‘B’ personalities became quite hostile. I heard quite a few of them swearing mystical oaths.”

In her research tests, Guynes classified eighty-six volunteers as either Type ‘A’ (competitive, impatient, driven) or Type ‘B’ (calm, patient, persistant) and then gave them twenty minutes to edit a short text on a terminal. While they worked, she manipulateed the computer response time at random, so that subjects experienced unpredictable delays of up to ten seconds at a time. While the Type ‘A’ began with the highest anxienty levels, by the end of the experiment both groups had reached the same level of agitation.

After looking at other studies on the effects of anxiety, Guyens concluded that over time such workers could experience not only emotional tension, apprehension and short-term memory disruption but also physical effects such as elevated heart rates, hypertension and muscle tension with a resulting decline in productivity and general health. Guyens suggested that, “This should affect the way software is written. Some of the database software in particular is still too slow.”

Twenty years later, (and for those who spend most of their day working with a computer, these results don’t come as much of a surprise) it would seem little has changed in the human-machine interaction. Computers have leaped ahead in processing power, reached amazing speeds, especially since the time this research was done in the late 1980’s. And yet, on a daily basis we find ourselves frustrated and annoyed that they don’t work faster. Maybe it’s time to take a deep breath, relax and realize that this tension is not generated by the computer but by ourselves, and that we need to slow down and stop trying to adapt ourselves to the machines.

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Categories: ,
Keywords: angst,anxiety,frustration response times

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