Date of Award

8-2006

Level of Access

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

Advisor

Geoffrey L. Thorpe

Second Committee Member

Jeffrey E. Hecker

Third Committee Member

Sandra T. Sigmon

Abstract

Test anxiety is characterized by apprehension, panic, and ruminating thoughts of potential failure that are experienced during an exam situation. In a test conscious society, students’ lives are significantly affected by their test performance. Tests are used to measure and determine thresholds in education, career placement and advancement. Possibly due to pressure to perform well, students often experience heightened stress and anxiety during tests, and thus test anxiety has become a pervasive problem. This study investigated attentional bias among a test-anxious sample. It is suggested that test-anxious individuals have a tendency to use a disproportionate amount of their cognitive resources scanning the test environment for possible signs of threat. That is, high test-anxious students have an attentional bias for threatening stimuli related to a testing situation. In the present study, attentional bias was investigated using a Stroop color-naming task and an attentional dot probe task among a sample of undergraduate students. The rationale for using these tasks is that attentional bias toward threatening stimuli would be indicated by delayed color-naming responses (Stroop task) and accelerated responses to probes replacing threatening words (attentional dot-probe task). During these tasks, participants were shown various words that either contained test-threat (e.g., test), test-threat control (e.g., shoe), general threat (e.g., abuse), or general threat control (e.g., elbow). Participants were also assessed for state, trait, and test anxiety. Initially, differences in attentional bias were not found between high test-anxious and low test-anxious participants; however, an elevation in state anxiety (due to an upcoming exam) was shown to activate attentional bias among high test-anxious participants. High test-anxious participants who had an upcoming exam demonstrated an attentional bias for test-threat words compared to low test-anxious participants who did not have an upcoming exam. Furthermore, it was found that high test-anxious participants (compared to low testanxious participants) demonstrated an attentional bias for test-threatening stimuli compared to neutral stimuli whether or not participants had an upcoming exam. Overall, this study showed that high test-anxious individuals have an increased susceptibility to distraction when receiving an anxiety-provoking stressor (e.g., words containing test threat). Attentional bias among test-anxious individuals has important implications for test anxiety research including classification of test anxiety separate from other anxiety types (e.g., social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder) and the development of coping strategies and effective treatments for students.

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