ANXIETY
July 17, 2009

Anxious and Distracted

People who tend to be quite anxious are more easily distracted than those who aren't. For students this means...
People who are particularly anxious may have a harder time ignoring distractions and therefore work harder than the non-anxious to get the same job done, a new study from University of London suggests. The research is published in Society Today, the publication of the Economic and Social Research Council.

The anxious participants took notably longer to read the stories, as they were more likely to linger on the distracter words.

Michael Eysenck and his team asked anxious and non-anxious people to read a story — into which several "distracter" words were inserted — on the computer. While they did this, their eye movements were tracked by a machine. The anxious participants took notably longer to read the stories, as they were more likely to linger on the distracter words. This phenomenon was particularly true if the participants were told that they would later be tested on reading comprehension.

In another portion of the experiment, participants solved alternating division and multiplication problems; anxious people took longer overall to complete the problem sets.

Eysenck says that many of "the negative effects of anxiety appear to be caused by difficulties with controlling attention." He adds that being anxious and therefore distracted may create a significant problem for students trying to keep up in school. He adds that "training techniques designed to enhance attentional control — the ability to ignore distractions and to switch attention from one task to another — could help anxious students to achieve their academic potential."

Eysenck and his colleagues note that although it is possible for anxious people to achieve the same accomplishments as the non-anxious, it may come at a significant cost, in terms of stress level and effort. They urge educators to try and monitor the amount of work an anxious student has to devote to his or her schoolwork to achieve the same grades as other, less anxious pupils. "Anxious students may be trying desperately hard just to keep up, and this could be at great psychological cost."
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