Influence of anxiety on a student's cognitive ability and performance

Stephanie L. Plotts, The College of Wooster


The current study investigated the influence of anxiety on a student's performance on tests measuring cognitive ability using an adaptation to the Trier Social Stress Test. Thirty-five College of Wooster undergraduate students' self-reported anxiety levels were assessed using the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory before and after taking intelligence tests. The tests given were four subtests of The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale Third Edition (WAIS-III); the Block Design, Matrix Reasoning, Similarities, and Vocabulary subtests. It was hypothesized that students with trait anxiety that were put into a stressful environment would perform worse on measures of cognitive ability than students with low trait anxiety that were not put into a stressful environment. As hypothesized, participants in the experimental condition performed worse on Verbal Intelligence tests, specifically the Vocabulary and Similarities subtests, and reported an increase in state anxiety following stressful instruction. However, there was no decrease in Performance Intelligence test scores for participants in the experimental or control group. Results of this study suggest that when under stressful instruction, participants are more likely to have an increase in state anxiety and perform worse on standardized tests measuring Verbal Intelligence than participants lacking stressful instruction.