Pressure on Performance the Effects of Time essay

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Pressure on Performance

The Effects of Time Pressure and Performance Pressure on the Ability to Solve Anagrams in College Students.

Anxiety and stress have been demonstrated to affect test performance and cognitive performance. Previous research has suggested that anxiety interferes with test performance by means of cognitive interference. Often, especially in individuals with high levels of test anxiety, stress leads to anxiety which leads to inattention, self-absorption, and focus on self-evaluation rather than on task-relevant behaviors. Stress is most often induced by a high pressure environment and can vary from situation to situation. The purpose the current study is to examine whether stress induced from a high pressure environment negatively affects testing performance. The current study investigated the effects of time pressure (being timed) and performance pressure (being evaluated) on the ability of college students to solve anagrams. It was hypothesized that pressure would lead to stress that would result in detriments in cognitive performance; however, the hypothesis was not supported in the direction predicted. The effects of stress and arousal as they relate to performance are discussed.

The Effects of Time Pressure and Performance Pressure on the Ability to Solve Anagrams in College Students.

Stress has been demonstrated to affect an individual's performance on a number of cognitive tasks (Sarason, 1984; Morris & Liebert, 1969). Stress has been hypothesized to lead to anxiety, which can result in cognitive interference in anxious people (Sarason, 1984). This cognitive interference can result in a diminished ability to pay attention, focus on the task at hand, and approach a test or cognitive task with attention to self-monitoring as opposed to focusing on the task itself. For example, Holroyd, Westbrook, Wolf, and Badorn (1978) compared the performance of participants with high test anxiety to those with low test anxiety of a test of executive functioning and the ability to suppress automatic cognitive processing. They found that the high test anxiety participants performed significantly more poorly and made more negative self-attributions than low test anxiety participants in spite of having similar autonomic nervous system responses during the task. Holroyd et al. concluded that differences in test anxiety and the attributions of high test anxiety individuals were not due to maladaptive autonomic nervous system responses.

Zatz and Chassin (1985) looked at the cognitions of high and low test anxiety children. Children who were high test-anxious tended to engage in greater negative self-statements and their focus to the task was disrupted by significantly more off-task thoughts. These children also made more self-statements related to coping with anxiety. The performance of these children was also affected by the perception of a threatening environment or negative appraisal.

Morris and Liebert (1969) investigated how the knowledge of being timed affected high worries on the Wechlsler Adult Intelligence Test (WAIS). High worriers performed poorly when they knew that they were being timed as opposed to untimed high worries. This was in contrast to low worriers, who actually performed better when they were timed.

Thus, the pressure of being timed or evaluated can affect cognition and lead to detriments in test performance, especially in those with high test anxiety. Perhaps when individuals who may not be overly test anxious are pressured to solve many problems quickly in a very short period or when their personal sense of integrity is threatened they will experience similar cognitive interference. The current study set out to test the effects of cognitive interference on the ability to solve anagrams in college students. It was hypothesized that the stress induced by the knowledge that one is either being timed when solving many difficult problems, personally evaluated, or both would inhibit problem solving abilities. Specifically, the greater the stress induced on a person, the greater determents in performance relative to less or no pressure to perform.



Participants were undergraduate Introductory Psychology students at Lehigh University (N = 37). Participants were recruited via the University's subject pool and performed the experiment as a class requirement.


The materials consisted of 20 anagrams for the participants to solve (Appendix A), a clock for the timed conditions, a stopwatch for the experimenter to time the participants, and a three-question manipulation check survey that each participant completed following the experiment (Appendix B).


A 2 x 2 between subjects design was used. The independent variables were time pressure (yes/no) and performance pressure (yes/no). The dependent measure was the number anagrams solved by each participant. A three question survey was also administered following the experiment designed to check if the manipulations of time pressure and performance pressure had worked.


Participants were randomly assigned to one of the four conditions and were instructed to solve as many anagrams as they could. Each participant, regardless of the condition they were in, received the same 20 anagrams to solve. The instructions differed for each condition. In the combined pressure condition participants were informed that the ability to solve anagrams was a measure of their intelligence (performance pressure) and they would have a limited amount of time (five minutes) to solve as many of the anagrams that they could solve, so they must work quickly (time pressure). In the time pressure only condition participants were not told that the ability to solve anagrams was a measure of their intelligence, but were informed that they would have only five minutes to solve as many anagrams as they could. In both the conditions where time pressure was an independent variable the experimenters placed a clock in front of the participants while they solved the anagrams to increase stress. The clock was not used in the other two conditions of the experiment.

In the performance pressure only condition participants s were informed that that the ability to solve anagrams was a measure of their intelligence, but that they would have plenty of time to solve the anagrams. In the no pressure condition participants were informed that their performance on the anagrams was not significant and that they would have as plenty of time to solve the anagrams. Regardless of condition participants had five minutes to work on solving the anagrams.

After the experiment was completed each participant completed the manipulation check and then was debriefed as to the nature of the experiment. The manipulation check questions were rated on a 10-point scale in terms of how much stress the participant felt to perform during the experiment, how much they felt that solving anagrams was a measure of intelligence, and how much time constraints affected their performance. Higher scores indicated high agreement or perceptions of experienced stress.


A 2 (time pressure) x 2 (performance pressure) between subjects ANOVA was performed on the data. The means and standard deviations for the experimental conditions are displayed in Table One. As can be seen in Table One participants that were in the time pressure condition completed more anagrams than subjects who were not under the pressure of time. The main effect for time pressure approached significance F (1, 33) = 4.00, p = 0.054. The main effect for performance pressure was not significant F (1,33) = .33, p = 0.57. The interaction of time pressure and performance pressure was not significant F (1, 33) = .13, p = 0.73.

The results of the manipulation check revealed that participants in the time pressure condition felt significantly pressured, F (1, 33) = 7.06, p = 0.012. The participants in the performance pressure condition did not experience pressure or stress to perform, F (1, 33) = 0.83, p = 0.37. Adding performance pressure to the pressure of timed conditions did not result in participants feeling increased or decreased stress as the manipulation check of the interaction between time and performance pressure was not significant, F (1, 33) = 0.07, p = 0.80.


The current study investigated the effects of stress caused by time pressure and performance pressure on the ability to solve anagrams. It was hypothesized that stress as a result of time pressure or performance pressure would affect the test results of the participants.

It is clear from the manipulation check that participants in time pressure condition experienced pressure (stress) concerning their performances. The main effect for time approached significance, but in the opposite direction than was predicted. Participants in the time pressure condition performed better than in other conditions.

The performance pressure manipulation did not work at all. The participants did not buy into the experimenters' assertion that the ability to solve anagrams was a measure of intelligence. Therefore, participants informed that intelligence was measured by the ability to solve anagrams did not feel the amount of pressure to perform as was hoped. A better argument with references may have been more effective.

Perhaps one way to increase overall statistical power and at the same time combine a more realistic approach to this experiment would be to add a third independent variable of high/low anxiety participants. This could be accomplished by screening participants with a clinical scale of overall anxiety levels and dividing the sample into high-low anxiety groups.…[continue]

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