Newswise — BOWLING GREEN, O.—Learning a new technology can be a daunting task for adults of any age, but this is especially true in older adults. New research from Drs. Kate Magsamen-Conrad and John Dowd, assistant professors of communication at Bowling Green State University, and BGSU graduate students Shrinkhala Upadhyaya and Claire Youngnyo Joa, looked at tablet acceptance and use across multiple generations.

The study is in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

The researchers said the main goals of their study were to better understand generational differences related to tablet use and to predict individuals’ behavioral intention to use the devices. They tested four determinants: performance expectancy, effort expectancy, social influence and facilitation conditions among 899 respondents aged 19-99.

They said their study is unique for the characteristics of its sample group in both age and user experience. “In addition to the traditional technologically savvy millennial who is constantly connected to his or her device, we also had the lower range of technology interaction, with almost 6 percent of the sample reporting that they do not understand what a tablet is, even after three-quarters page long description with photos,” they wrote.

Even though scholars say technology could considerably increase independence for older adults, they are still less likely to adopt new technology than their younger counterparts for reasons ranging from doubts of its benefits to a general lack of comfort. The relationship between age and attitudes towards technology is also predominantly negative, meaning that as the age of individuals’ increases, their negative attitudes towards technology increase.

Ageism also plays a significant role. The elderly are often perceived as less mentally and physically competent, incapable of or otherwise resistant to change, and overall less flexible or adaptable to new situations. “While we are all-too-familiar with these kinds of stereotypes, it is important to consider the ways in which these views might impact older adults, both in our interactions with them as well as their own physical and emotional well-being,” said Magsamen-Conrad.

Even though technologies related to tablet use have evolved, the resources that would help individuals who are less technologically literate to use tablets (or any new technology) are greatly lacking.

“Some of the users have relatively high levels of anxiety or difficulty when they are introduced to new technologies. Such concerns related to the issue of the digital divide and ageism stress the need for lowering elders’ level of expected efforts for using new technology. Because the use of technology has transformed the workforce, educational practices, leisure activities, and specifically health services, technology training programs, and overall improved technology literacy, may help ease older individuals' daily living,” the researchers stated

They believe their results suggest the need for training programs designed to address these issues.

“At the very least, the challenges and complexities experienced as a result of ageism might further highlight the importance of these training programs, which could be designed to help more effectively and ethically facilitate the use of new technologies.

“When done effectively and ethically, training programs could help chip away at some of the obstacles and stigmas that impede or discourage older adults from using resources that can greatly benefit them. This would not only create better training programs and potentially mitigate some ageist attitudes held by trainer, but can also contribute to the overall well-being of the target population.”

BGSU is doing its part to help bridge the digital divide. For the last three years, students of Magsamen-Conrad have been teaching technology classes at the Wood County Senior Center.