Understanding Differences in Web Usage: The Role of Need for Cognition and the Five Factor Model of Personality

By Tuten, Tracy L.; Bosnjak, Michael | Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, January 1, 2001 | Go to article overview
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Understanding Differences in Web Usage: The Role of Need for Cognition and the Five Factor Model of Personality

Tuten, Tracy L., Bosnjak, Michael, Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Using the Five-factor model of personality and Need for Cognition, the authors investigated the relationship between personality and Web usage. Of the five factors, Openness to Experience and Neuroticism showed the greatest association to Web usage. Openness to Experience was positively related to using the Web for entertainment and product information, while Neuroticism was negatively related to Web usage. Need for Cognition was significantly and positively correlated with all Web activities involving cognitive thought

Interest in Internet usage is reflected in the many organizations that strive to accurately describe who is using the Web and for what purposes. Such organizations include the GVU's Web User Survey, Cyberdialogue, NUA Internet Surveys and others. However, such descriptions of Web usage do not provide a picture of the users themselves. In other words, what might cause differences in Web usage among various users? This study sought to bridge this gap by investigating the relationship between personality traits and Web usage, and reports the results of a survey which assessed the Big Five personality traits, Need for Cognition, and Web usage. Prior to the description of the results, the five-factor model of personality and the Need for Cognition are outlined briefly, and the methods used in conducting the study are explained.


The five-factor model of personality, sometimes called the Big Five, is used to describe the most important domains of personality. The factors include Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism, and Openness to Experience (Goldberg, 1990, 1992). Extraversion, or Surgency, is commonly thought of as a form of sociability (Judge, Martocchio, & Thoresen, 1997). Adjectives associated with extraversion include talkative, active, assertive, excitement-seeking, and easily bored or distracted (Judge, et al., 1997; Costa & McCrae, 1992). Agreeableness is described by the adjectives courteous, flexible, good-natured, cooperative, and tolerant (Costa & McCrae, 1992; Barrick & Mount, 1991). Conscientiousness, or Dependability, is described as personal competence, self-discipline and deliberation. Individuals who are high in conscientiousness are punctual, reliable, determined, and likely to have a strong need for achievement. Digman and Takemoto-Chock (1981) likened conscientiousness to achievement orientation. Costa and McCrae (1992) emphasized an individual's self-control as the key component of conscientiousness, while Murphy and Lee (1994) linked conscientiousness to honesty and integrity. Individuals who exhibit neuroticism are generally described as fearful, anxious, pessimistic, worried, and insecure (Judge, et al., 1997; Barrick & Mount, 1991). Openness to Experience is sometimes referred to as Intellect (Goldberg, 1990). Adjectives used to describe Openness to Experience include imaginative, curious, original, broad-minded, and intelligent (Barrick & Mount, 1991).


Cacioppo and Petty (1982) proposed that Need for Cognition was a stable individual difference in people's tendency to engage in, and enjoy, effortful cognitive activity. The individual variations in Need for Cognition were proposed as falling along a bipolar continuum from low to high. Individuals high in Need for Cognition are thought to naturally seek, acquire, think about, and reflect on information in their environment. These people are thought of as having positive attitudes towards tasks and stimuli that require reasoning, problem-solving, and effortful thinking (Cacioppo, Petty, Feinstein, & Jarvis, 1996). They perceive themselves as being in control of their own fate, effective workers, and as having more knowledge about a wide variety of social issues.

In contrast, individuals low in Need for Cognition prefer to rely upon others, particularly celebrities, and similar simple cues.

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Understanding Differences in Web Usage: The Role of Need for Cognition and the Five Factor Model of Personality


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