The effects of anxiety on digit span and memory test performance

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

First Committee Member

Kent Burnett - Committee Chair


Researchers have observed and studied the negative relationship between test anxiety and performance in academic settings for over four decades. However, the possibility that an analogous process may affect performance on assessments used by psychologists has received virtually no attention. The purpose of the present study was to take an initial step in exploring the potential negative impact of anxiety on commonly used measures of cognitive functioning. Archival data from a sample of male patients at a Veterans Administration Medical Center was used. MMPI-2 content scales related to anxiety (the Anxiety Scale, the Fears Scale, and the Obsessiveness Scale) were chosen as measures of anxiety because of their clinical utility and availability. The outcome measures (Digit Span, and the Wechsler Memory Scales-Revised) were used because they involve the type of cognitive task demands predicted to be affected by anxiety. Two-step multiple regression analyses were performed to determine the amount of additional variance accounted for by scores on the three measures of anxiety after the effects of age and education were determined. The results indicate that scores on the anxiety measures did not explain a significant amount of variance in either Digits Forward or Digits Backward scores. However, Obsessiveness Scale scores did account for a significant amount of unique variance in both immediate and delayed verbal memory scores. In addition, Fears Scale scores contributed a unique amount of variance in the prediction of both immediate and delayed visual memory scores.


Psychology, Clinical; Psychology, Cognitive

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