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Lee, Kerry
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This thesis investigated the interaction between cognition and emotion by examining the influence of test anxiety on 11-year-olds’ performance on working-memory-dependent tasks. The negative correlational relationship between test anxiety and task performance is well-established in the research literature. However, the mechanisms underlying this relationship, particularly in a child population, are not well-researched. Using the processing efficiency theory (PET) as my theoretical framework, I examined whether the negative effects of test anxiety on task performance are due to a temporary reduction in working memory resources. Three specific assumptions—derived from the PET framework—were tested. The first assumption is that test anxiety affects efficiency to a greater extent compared to effectiveness. The second assumption is that the adverse effects of test anxiety on efficiency increases as the task’s working memory load increases. The third assumption is that state test anxiety mediates the relationship between trait test anxiety and task performance. Over a series of three experiments, these assumptions were tested by comparing high and low trait test-anxious children’s task performance across varying levels of working memory load. All children performed the experimental task under high and low situational stress conditions.

The findings of this thesis were not fully consistent with the PET’s assumptions. First, in terms of the impact of trait test anxiety and working memory load on task performance, varying patterns of findings were observed in the current series of studies. In Study 1 and 3, adverse effects of trait test anxiety were found on efficiency (but not effectiveness) but the magnitude and pattern of these effects did not change as working memory load increased. In contrast, Study 2 revealed adverse effects of trait test anxiety on effectiveness as well as efficiency measures. Moderator effects of working memory load were also found on both measures of task performance. Second, the pattern of performance observed in Study 2 and 3 were inconsistent with the PET’s third assumption concerning the mediating role of state test anxiety. Findings from these two studies suggest that trait test anxiety has a direct effect on task performance.

Overall, my findings suggest that the PET may not be fully applicable to children. Based on the observed patterns of performance, I proposed that the direct effect of trait test anxiety on task performance is mediated by trait-anxiety-based worry and a domain-specific deficit in arithmetic skill. The current findings indicate that working memory load exerts a significant moderator effect under specific task conditions—limited encoding and/or processing time on task—which restricts the use of compensatory strategies to mitigate the negative impact of test anxiety. More generally, it was proposed that the applicability of the PET framework to test-anxious children may be limited by age-related differences in working memory capacity and general susceptibility to worry.
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LB3060.6 Ng
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Appears in Collections:Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

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