Date of Completion


Embargo Period



anxiety, working memory, cognitive interference, performance validity tests, effort

Major Advisor

Kimberli Treadwell, Ph.D.

Associate Advisor

Kevin P. Young, Ph.D.

Associate Advisor

Chi-Ming Chen, Ph.D.

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


Anxiety disorders and situational anxiety are common in the general population, yet the influence of anxiety symptoms on working memory is poorly understood. Some studies suggest that anxiety may be inversely related to working memory, possibly due to reduced cognitive efficiency and/or interference from worry-based cognitions; however, methodological inconsistencies have undermined generalizability. The high prevalence of anxiety makes further study of its associated neuropsychological deficits and underlying mechanism of action tantamount. Moreover, assessment of performance can induce anxiety in even relatively low anxious individuals, which may also interfere with working memory and performance-based measurement. In this study, undergraduates with low and high levels of subclinical anxiety completed working memory tasks during both low and high situational anxiety phases. Results indicated that although the high anxiety group reported greater anxiety and task interfering cognitions, anxiety level did not predict working memory during either phase. In contrast to theoretical models, working memory performance improved for both groups during the second, high situational anxiety phase. Secondarily, Performance Validity Tests (PVTs) were embedded in the evaluation to determine if low effort—a common confounding variable in assessment—could explain the results of this study. Analyses revealed that 15% of the undergraduate sample failed at least one PVT, suggesting that a lack of significant differences between groups may be, at least in part, attributed to low effort. Implications of these findings and future directions for neuropsychological research with anxious individuals and undergraduates are discussed.

Available for download on Friday, July 14, 2017