Anxiety's hidden cost

Jun 23, 2009

The effect of anxiety on academic performance is not always obvious but new research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council suggests that there may be hidden costs. The research found that anxious individuals find it harder to avoid distractions and take more time to turn their attention from one task to the next than their less anxious peers.

The researchers, Professor Michael Eysenck and Dr Nazanin Derkshan, designed several experiments to explore the effects of on our ability to perform tasks such as avoiding distractions on a computer screen, when reading a story, or solving a series of simple mathematics problems.

According to Professor Eysenck, these findings have clear practical implications in the classroom:

"A lot of the negative effects of anxiety appear to be caused by difficulties with controlling attention. This suggests that training techniques designed to enhance attentional control - the ability to ignore distractions and to switch attention from one task to another - could help anxious students to achieve their academic potential," he explains.

In addition, the study showed that anxious individuals often perform at a comparable level to non-anxious ones but only do so at a greater cost in terms of effort or perhaps long term stress.

"This shows that it is important that teachers focus not only on whether a student's seems to be OK but also on how much effort the student had to put in to achieve that level. Anxious students may be trying desperately hard just to keep up and this could be at great psychological cost," says Professor Eysenck.

In one of these experiments, participants' eye movements were recorded as they read a story that included a few 'distracter' words that were unrelated to the story. The researchers found that anxious participants took longer to read the story because they tended to dwell on the irrelevant words, particularly when they thought that their comprehension would be evaluated by others

In another experiment, participants performed two arithmetical tasks such as multiplication and division either in separate blocks (all the problems requiring multiplication grouped together and kept separate from the division problems) or with one task alternating with the other.

In this experiment, anxiety levels did not appear to affect the number of correct answers given but anxious participants took longer to complete the task, particularly when they had to keep switching from one type of mathematical calculation to another.

Overall, the experiments showed that anxiety had more effect on how much effort it took to perform a task than on how well the task was actually performed. In other words, anxiety often produced "hidden costs" that were not apparent in performance.

Source: Economic & Social Research Council (news : web)

Explore further: Boys who bully peers more likely to engage in sexual harassment

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Anxious? Do a crossword puzzle

Dec 17, 2008

Anxious people often engage in mindless distractions to keep from thinking scary or troubling thoughts. But results from a new brain imaging study by a University of California, Berkeley, researcher suggest that brain-sharpening ...

A little anxiety pays sometimes, study shows

Apr 03, 2008

Anxiety gets a lot of bad press. Dwelling on the negative can lead to chronic stress and anxiety disorders and phobias, but evolutionarily speaking, anxiety holds some functional value. In humans, learning to avoid harm is ...

A good night's sleep even more elusive for anxious children

Apr 22, 2009

Managing routine sleep problems in children can be a testing time for parents as well as being highly stressful for the child. Add a child with anxiety to the mix and a good night’s sleep for everyone can be elusive if ...

Recommended for you

Toddlers copy their peers to fit in, but apes don't

14 hours ago

From the playground to the board room, people often follow, or conform, to the behavior of those around them as a way of fitting in. New research shows that this behavioral conformity appears early in human ...

Sadness lasts longer than other emotions

15 hours ago

Why is it that you can feel sad up to 240 times longer than you do feeling ashamed, surprised, irritated or even bored? It's because sadness often goes hand in hand with events of greater impact such as death ...

Can parents make their kids smarter?

15 hours ago

Reading bedtime stories, engaging in conversation and eating nightly dinners together are all positive ways in which parents interact with their children, but according to new research, none of these actions ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

NonRational
1 / 5 (1) Jun 26, 2009
I thought this was an interesting article, but I couldn't stay focused to finish it ><

I'm anxious I guess!
podizzle
not rated yet Jun 26, 2009
seriously. I am constantly distracted and constantly anxious. time to meditate!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.