Effects of self-directed attention on performance and persistence among persons high and low in test anxiety

Charles S. Carver, Linda M. Peterson, Donna J. Follansbee, Michael F. Scheier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


Recent theories of test anxiety hold that self-directed attention impairs the performances of test-anxious persons in evaluative situations. Researchers have not sought to experimentally validate the mediation of self-focus in this relationship, however. Two studies are reported that were intended to provide evidence on this point. The studies also integrate the impairment hypothesis with a broader model of self-regulation, in which self-focus is sometimes facilitating and sometimes debilitating, depending upon the person's expectancies of being able to perform adequately. In Experiment 1, subjects high and low in test anxiety attempted a series of anagrams in an evaluative situation. As predicted, rather than exerting a uniformly adverse effect, experimentally enhanced self-focus interacted with level of test anxiety, improving performances among low-anxious subjects, impairing them among the test-anxious. Subjects in Experiment 2 attempted an insoluble test item, while their persistence was unobtrusively monitored. Self-directed attention once again interacted with level of test anxiety, so as to increase persistence among low-anxious subjects and to decrease it among the test-anxious. In neither study was there strong evidence that the difference in responding to self-focus was mediated by expectancy of performing well. A general discussion addresses this issue, along with the following: the relationship between these studies and the earlier literature of test anxiety, the theoretical implications of the fact that self-focus had interactive effects, and the fact that the theoretical model predicting these effects was developed in the context of normal, rather than abnormal, behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)333-353
Number of pages21
JournalCognitive Therapy and Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1983

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology


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