, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp 333-353

Effects of self-directed attention on performance and persistence among persons high and low in test anxiety

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Recent theories of test anxiety hold that self-directed attention impairs the performances of test-anxious persons in evaluative situations. Researchers have not sought to experimentally validate the mediation of self-focus in this relationship, however. Two studies are reported that were intended to provide evidence on this point. The studies also integrate the impairment hypothesis with a broader model of self-regulation, in which self-focus is sometimes facilitating and sometimes debilitating, depending upon the person's expectancies of being able to perform adequately. In Experiment 1, subjects high and low in test anxiety attempted a series of anagrams in an evaluative situation. As predicted, rather than exerting a uniformly adverse effect, experimentally enhanced self-focus interacted with level of test anxiety, improving performances among low-anxious subjects, impairing them among the test-anxious. Subjects in Experiment 2 attempted an insoluble test item, while their persistence was unobtrusively monitored. Self-directed attention once again interacted with level of test anxiety, so as to increase persistence among low-anxious subjects and to decrease it among the test-anxious. In neither study was there strong evidence that the difference in responding to self-focus was mediated by expectancy of performing well. A general discussion addresses this issue, along with the following: the relationship between these studies and the earlier literature of test anxiety, the theoretical implications of the fact that self-focus had interactive effects, and the fact that the theoretical model predicting these effects was developed in the context of normal, rather than abnormal, behavior.

Preparation of this article was facilitated by NSF grants BNS 81-07236 and BNS 80-21849 to the first and fourth authors, respectively.