Volume 4, 2016: Issue 1

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Empirical results of an experimental study on the role of password strength and cognitive load on employee productivity


Stephen Mujeye, McHenry County College, USA
Yair Levy, Nova Southeastern University, USA
Herbert Mattord, Kennesaw State University, USA
Wei Li, Nova Southeastern University, USA


The demand for information system authentication has significantly increased over the last decade. Research has shown that the majority of user authentications remain to be password based, however, it is well documented that passwords have significant limitations. To address this issue, companies have been placing increased requirements on the user to ensure their passwords are more complex and consequently stronger with little consideration on the impact on employee productivity. Thus, this study was set to determine the effects of changing the password strength (cognitive load) over time and its impact on employee productivity. An experiment with two experimental groups and one control group was conducted. Data was collected on the number of failed operating system logon attempts, users’ logon times, task completion times, and number of reset requests. The data collected from 72 participants was analyzed for group differences and when controlling for computer experience, age, and gender. Our results showed significant differences on all measures between the three groups. However, no significant differences were observed when controlling for computer experience, age, and gender. Furthermore, the results indicated a significant difference between the user’s perceptions about passwords before and after the experiment. Our results may help organizations to realize the point at which increasing authentication places a higher cognitive load on the users, which in turn affects their productivity.


Access control in organization, passwords vs. organizational productivity, password strength, authentication in organization, password complexity paradox, cognitive load theory




Research paper


The Online Journal of Applied Knowledge Management (OJAKM), ISSN: 2325-4688


International Institute for Applied Knowledge Management (IIAKM)