Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors (PhD)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences

Advisor 1

Kelly S. Steelman

Committee Member 1

Douglas A. Hershey

Committee Member 2

Shane Mueller

Committee Member 3

Charles Wallace


The shift from defined benefit to defined contribution retirement plans for the current generation of retiree planners, Generation X, has placed the onus on individuals to gather, comprehend, and utilize complex financial information in order to plan their own retirement. Low savings rates and retirement planning activity indicate that individuals are not up to the challenge. This research investigates the interplay of three facets of cognitive load, usability, tech and retirement anxiety and the effects of a usability intervention on retirement planning activity levels.

Study 1 used semi-structured interviews and cognitive task analysis to explore themes of computer and retirement anxiety among Gen X aged adults. Structural coding and clustering analysis indicated a wide disparity in computer skills, and a general trend to learn computer skills in response to a specific need (e.g., work requirements, desire to learn a new skill). With regards to retirement planning, strong themes emerged regarding difficulty making appropriate goals and finding trusted information to advise decision-making.

Experiment 2 introduced a usability training intervention to improve financial knowledge and goal setting. The expectation was that high usability would support learning and minimize the effects of any tech and retirement anxiety, thus improving retirement planning outcomes. Results showed that higher levels of financial knowledge are associated with decreased intrinsic cognitive load while financial anxiety has a positive impact on germane cognitive load (e.g., schema development). Conversely, tech anxiety detracts from schema development and increases likelihood that individuals will be distracted by extraneous or distracting elements in a digital training. Overall, financial knowledge and tech anxiety impacted financial planning outcomes, while the usability manipulation did not have the expected effect. Implications for policy and institutional support are discussed as well as the need for more research utilizing usability manipulations.