Human Factors

Self-efficacy and the active user paradox – what makes people learn the new tricks?- Schmettow software applications like Word, Excel and Photoshop offer users a plethora of functions to do their tasks most efficiently. For example, Word offers the formatting templates, allowing users to modify a documents appearance easily and efficiently. Still, it has been observed, that users rather stick with old and simple routines, using the powerful text processing software that is Word, like a 1970’s mechanical typewriter (Carroll & Rosson, 1987; Fu & Gray, 2004).

This has been called the active user paradox (AUP). Many people are prone to it, and refrain from exploring new and better ways of doing their tasks. On the other hand, a presumably smaller group of users typically is very eager to explore a system. Still, we don’t know, yet, how to distinguish between explorers and non-explorers.

A psychological theory that could partly explain the spectrum is self-efficacy and its opposite learned helplessness. In short, the theory says that whether one actively faces the challenges depends on past experience. A series of past failures makes people rather dis-engaged.

In this project you test whether computer self-efficacy, as measured by questionnaires and/or interviews, can predict a person’s exploratory behavior in a computer task. You will create several computer-based tasks (e.g. drawing or typesetting), systematically observe participants amount of exploratory behavior and relate it to self efficacy.

This thesis project can be carried out by a team of 2 students

Interested? Ask Martin Schmettow (

Carroll, J. M., & Rosson, M. B. (1987). Paradox of the active user. In J. M. Carroll (Ed.), Interfacing Thought (pp. 80–111). MIT Press.

Fu, W. T., & Gray, W. D. (2004). Resolving the paradox of the active user: Stable suboptimal performance in interactive tasks. Cognitive Science, 28(6), 901–935. doi:10.1016/j.cogsci.2004.03.005

Schmettow, M., & Drees, M. (2014). What drives the geeks? Linking computer enthusiasm to achievement goals. In Proceedings of BCS HCI 2014 - Sand, Sea and Sky - Holiday HCI. Southport, UK.: BCS Learning and Development Ltd.

Schmettow, M., Noordzij, M. L., & Mundt, M. (2013). An implicit test of UX: Individuals Differ in What They Associate with Computers. In CHI ’13 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems on - CHI EA  '13 (pp. 2039 – 2048). New York, New York, USA: ACM Press. doi:10.1145/2468356.2468722