Conative and Affective Process Analysis

By Richard E. Snow; Marshall J. Farr | Go to book overview

6
Test Anxiety, Cognitive Interference, and Performance

Irwin G. Sarason University of Washington

Why do people get the scores they receive on aptitude and intelligence tests? Why do employees differ in their attainments on the job? It would be convenient if the explanation of performance involved nothing more than the operation of purely intellective ability, and traditional cognitive processes. Unfortunately, there is growing evidence that this type of explanation is often indequate. People also bring to task performance situations distinctive sets of needs, motivations, and dispositions that influence their perceptions of the situations and how they approach them. To the extent that these types of individual differences are related to performance they should be included in research designs and the planning of educational programs. This paper describes a program of research on the relationship of text anxiety to cognitive interference and performance under both neutral and stress-arousing conditions.

Test anxiety is a personality variable that has been studied from the standpoint of its effects on subject's performance. Indices of its strength reflect the personal salience of one important class of situations, those in which people perform tasks and their work is evaluated. There is considerable evidence that the performance of highly test-anxious individuals on complex tasks is deleteriously affected by evaluational stressors ( Sarason, 1972a, 1975). The less complex, less demanding the task, the weaker this effect is.

Stress can be understood in terms of a call for personal action, a person's awareness of the need to do something about a given state of affairs ( Sarason & Sarason, 1981). Calls for action occur in response to situational challenges and can lead to both task-relevant and task-irrelevant cognitions. From this point of

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