Do older programmers perform as well as young ones? Exploring the intermediate effects of stress and programming experience

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Cognition, Technology and Work


There is a widespread perception that older adults are underperformers when compared with younger adults in tasks that involve intense use of technology, such as computer programming. Building on schema theory, we developed a research model that contradicts this perception. To provide an initial test of the model, we conducted a computer programming experiment involving 140 student participants majoring in technology-related areas with ages ranging from 19 to 54 years. The participants were asked to develop, under some time pressure, a simple software application. The results of our analyses suggest that age was positively associated with programming experience and perceived stress, that programming experience was positively associated with programming performance, and that perceived stress was negatively associated with programming performance. A moderating effect analysis suggests that as programming experience increased, the association between perceived stress and programming performance weakened; going from strongly negative toward neutral. This happened even as age was controlled for. When taken together, these results suggest that the widespread perception that older adults are underperformers is unwarranted. With enough programming experience, older programmers generally perform no better or worse than young ones.

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