Anxiety and Cognition

Anxiety and Cognition

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Anxiety and Cognition 


Erin A. Maloney, Jason R. Sattizahn, Sian L. Beilock 

Journal and DOI: 

WIREs Cognitive Science 2014, 5:403-411, doi: 10.1002/wcs.1299 

What did we ask? 

How can anxiety compromise performance on cognitively demanding tasks? 

Who is most susceptible to anxiety-induced poor performance? 

What are the techniques which help reduce the negative impact of anxiety on performance? 

How did we do it? 

We reviewed two types of anxiety that are commonly experienced in academic situations: test anxiety (fear or apprehension about being tested and performing poorly) and math anxiety (fear or apprehension about math). This included physiological, psychological and neuroscience research highlighting the negative consequences of these anxieties. 

What did we find? 

The dominant theory of how anxiety affects performance is that anxiety can cause 1) physiological changes and 2) negative thoughts and ruminations. Both consequences of anxiety use up important cognitive resources (I.e., working memory) necessary to perform successfully on tasks.  

Individuals who are high in working memory and who are accustomed to applying highly working memory demanding strategies may be more susceptible to anxiety-induced poor performance because of how anxiety affects performance. 

There are techniques which can help reduce the negative impact of anxiety on performance:  

1) Expressive writing (writing about feelings before an exam to alleviate intrusive thoughts and free up working memory resources) 

2) Reappraisal of arousal (viewing a situation as a challenge rather than as a threat) 

3) Breathing techniques (reduce physical symptoms of anxiety – (e.g., increased heart rate)) 

Why is this important? 

This review highlights how anxiety affects performance, who is most susceptible to anxiety-induced poor performance, and techniques to reduce this negative impact of anxiety on performance 

Brought to you by Dr. Erin Maloney’s Cognition and Emotion Laboratory at the University of Ottawa.  

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