Innovative Learning


Anxiety can be an inhibiting factor in learning and therefore has received considerable attention. It is closely related to arousal, attention and motivation as well as the entire topic of emotions (Clark & Fiske, 1982; Mandler, 1984). Anxiety is usually triggered by a situation that involves a decision or judgement; tests and exams are common precursors of anxiety in educational settings.

A distinction is made between state anxiety, increased arousal due to environmental factors, and trait anxiety, an individual's characteristic way of reacting to arousal. The level of anxiety displayed by a person is a mutual function of both types of anxiety. Trait anxiety is an aspect of personality and social behavior; for example, it correlates with self-esteem and defensiveness.

Anxiety has been shown to impair performance in a wide range of cognitive functions including attention, memory, concept formation and problem solving (e.g., Sieber et al., 1977; Spielberger, 1966). There is an interaction with task difficulty; anxiety results in poorer performance in complex tasks but may improve performance on very simple tasks. This result can be explained by Hull's drive reduction theory in so far as arousal increases the strength of responding but competing responses are activated in complex tasks. Because of its influence on performance, anxiety is highly relevant to Aptitude x Treatment Interaction (ATI) research .

Anxiety can be reduced in an instructional context by:

1) instructions that minimize stress and prepare individual

2) increased use of positive feedback during a task

3) reduced opportunities for failure in a task


Clark, M.S. & Fiske, S.T. (1982). Affect and Cognition. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Mandler, G. (1984). Mind and Body. New York: Norton.

Sieber, J., O'Neil, H.F., & Tobias. S. (1977). Anxiety, Learning and Instruction. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Spielberger, C. (1966). Anxiety and Behavior. New York: Academic Press.