Author(s): Eysenck MJ
Anxiety often impairs performance of “difficult” tasks (especially under test conditions), but there are numerous exceptions. Theories of anxiety and performance need to address at least two major issues: (1) the complexity and apparent inconsistency of the findings; and (2) the conceptual definition of task difficulty. Some theorists (e.g. Humphreys & Revelle, 1984; Sarason, 1988) argue that anxiety causes worry, and worry always impairs performance on tasks with high attentional or short-term memory demands. According to the processing efficiency theory, worry has two main effects: (1) a reduction in the storage and processing capacity of the working memory system available for a concurrent task; and (2) an increment in on-task effort and activities designed to improve performance. There is a crucial distinction within the theory between performance effectiveness (= quality of performance) and processing efficiency (= performance effectiveness divided by effort). Anxiety characteristically impairs efficiency more than effectiveness.