Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Writing about worries as an intervention for test anxiety in undergraduates
by Blank-Spadoni, Nicholas, Ed.D., University of Southern California, 2013, 99; 3598168
Abstract (Summary)

The phenomenon of test anxiety has long been associated with decrements in performance (Zeidner, 1998) and has been found to affect up to 40% of all students (Cizek & Berg, 2006). Because a substantial number of students that deal with test anxiety perform below their ability on exams, test anxiety during cognitive ability tests has also been identified as a root cause of differential predictive validity of academic performance (Bonnaccio, Reeve & Winford, 2011). In addition, recent developments in cognitive psychology and neuroscience have led to a greater understanding of the neurological and psychological mechanisms at work in test anxiety (e.g., Eysenck & Derakshan, 2011; Immordino-Yang, Christodolou & Singh, 2012). Together, the well-known decrements in performance attributable to test anxiety, the hardships students suffer as a result of these decrements, and the increasing influence of test performance on decision-making in a number of educational settings contribute to a situation where developing effective test anxiety interventions is of the utmost theoretical, ethical, and practical importance.

Given the importance of developing effective interventions for test anxiety, there is, relative to the rather large body of literature that looks at the symptoms, causes, and effects of test anxiety, very little research that offers empirical findings from studies that explore effective interventions for test anxiety. The current research sought to replicate findings from a recent study that found a 10-minute expressive writing intervention immediately before a final exam allowed test anxious students to overcome their anxieties and outperform their less-anxious peers (Ramirez & Beilock, 2011). Students in the Ostrow School of Dentistry and Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California performed the same kind of expressive writing intervention during a final exam. Survey data regarding cognitive test anxiety levels and trait anxiety were collected at Time 1 and the intervention was performed during at Time 2, during which levels of state anxiety were be assessed immediately before and after the intervention to determine the effect of the intervention on state anxiety.

Ultimately, the current research sought to answer the following questions: 1) Is there a difference in exam outcomes for students who write about worries immediately before an exam and for students who do not? 2) Does writing about worries immediately before an exam reduce self-report survey scores for state anxiety? Findings showed that condition differences did not exert a significant effect on exam performance when controlling for prior exam score in Sample 1 or Sample 2, but word count produced during the intervention significantly predicted exam performance across both samples when controlling for prior exam score. Further, the intervention significantly reduced state anxiety in Sample 1, but not Sample 2.

Recommendations for future research include additional investigation amongst samples within a more homogenous context; qualitative analysis of the content of writing performed as part of the intervention; comparative investigation of similar interventions that induce constructive internal reflection, mind-wandering, and interoception; and consideration of research designs that might allow for examination of the effects DMN deactivation induction in educational contexts.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Hirabayashi, Kimberly
Commitee: Immordino-Yang, Mary Helen, Keim, Robert, Seli, Helena
School: University of Southern California
Department: Education (Psychology and Technology)
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 75/02(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Neurosciences, Educational psychology
Keywords: Academic performance, Attentional networks, Default mode network, Expressive writing, Test anxiety
Publication Number: 3598168
ISBN: 978-1-303-46650-2
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