Buckley, Samantha (2018) Trait Anxiety and Performance: A Test of Working Memory and Attentional Control in University Students. Masters thesis, University of Huddersfield.

Aims: This study adopted the Attentional Control Theory (Eysenck, Derakshan, Santos, & Calvo, 2007), in an exploration of differences in performance effectiveness, and in mental effort ratings as an indication of processing efficiency, between participants high and low in trait anxiety on tasks designed to require verbal, visuospatial and central executive working memory functioning. These tasks demanded high levels of attentional control, pushing the boundaries of working memory capacity. The study also explored the effect of anxiety on the following central executive functions: inhibition, shifting, updating, (Miyake et al., 2000), critical reasoning, and fluid intelligence.

Method: An opportunity sample was acquired, consisting of Undergraduate students (n=79). The sample was further split using the State/Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI; Spielberger et al., 1983). The low trait anxiety group (n=26) consisted of participants with trait anxiety scores between 21 and 38, (male n=11, female n=15). The high anxiety group (n=28) consisted of participants with trait anxiety scores between 49 and 74, (male n=7, female n=21). Participants completed two verbal and visuospatial measures of simple tasks: word span and paper folding; complex tasks: complex reading span (Daneman & Carpenter, 1980) and visual arrays (Shipstead et al., 2014); and complex test-style tasks: critical thinking appraisal (Walter & Glaser, 1961) and advanced progressive matrices (Raven, 1962). Participants also completed a mental effort assessment: The Rating Scale of Mental Effort (Zijlstra, 1993) for each task completed.

Results: Performance Effectiveness: There was a significant difference between low and high trait anxiety participants when completing the complex and test-style measures. Unexpectedly, there was also a difference on the word span task which was considered a simple measure. Non-significant differences were found between low and high trait anxiety participants on all measures of mental effort.

Conclusion: Performance differences on cognitive measures of working memory and attentional control can result in long-lasting consequences for students with anxiety throughout education in a Western Society, in which attainment and intelligence is measured through one-size-fits-all examinations. Based on these results, it would be beneficial for educational bodies to implement alternative, individualised measures of attainment, and/or introduce anxiety reduction interventions, to support the learning and assessment of individuals with high trait anxiety.

BUCKLEY FINAL THESIS.pdf - Accepted Version
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