Tackling anxiety-related underachievement in school | Action Medical Research

Tackling anxiety-related underachievement in school

31 October 2012

A study published in the British Journal of Psychology1 shows that anxiety is associated with poorer test results in school when working memory is also poor. The study involved young people between 12-14 years of age who completed measurements of anxiety and working memory, as well as those related to cognitive ability.

The results showed that when working memory was poor, increased anxiety was associated with low cognitive ability test scores. And when working memory was good, anxiety was associated with higher test results. Dr Matthew Owens, a researcher at the University of Cambridge, carried out this work with Dr Julie Hadwin and Professor Jim Stevenson at the University of Southampton.

The authors suggest that young people in school who experience anxiety-related underachievement might benefit from interventions that focus on improving working memory capacity, as well as anxiety reduction.

The results of this paper has motivated current research being carried out at the University of Southampton funded by Action Medical Research. This research aims to target young people who report elevated anxiety and difficulties with memory and attention. It is investigating whether an intervention that focuses on increasing working memory capacity is effective in reducing anxiety, leading to better achievement in young people who experience elevated anxiety.

The lead researcher Dr Julie Hadwin says, "The research represents a novel and potentially effective means of addressing anxiety-related underachievement in school.”

1. When does anxiety help or hinder cognitive test performance? The role of working memory capacity. Matthew Owens, Jim Stevenson, Julie A Hadwin, Roger Norgate. British Journal of Psychology. Article first published online: 15 OCT 2012DOI: 10.1111/bjop.12009

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