Anxiety good for memory recall, bad for complex problem solving

Students, keep this in mind before that next major exam: Pre-test jitters make it easier to recall memorized facts, but that stress also makes it tough to solve more complex problems. Researchers at Ohio State University gave a battery of simple cognitive tests to 19 first-year medical students one to two days before a regular classroom exam -- a period when they would be highly stressed. Students were also given a similar battery of tests a week after the exam, when things were less hectic. This is closely related to the Yerkes-Dodson law -- A certain amount of arousal (in this case anxiety) can be a motivator toward change (with change in this case being learning). But too much or too little anxiety or arousal works against the learner. You want some mid-level of arousal to provide the motivation to change (learn). This is because too little arousal has an inert affect on the learner, while too much has a hyper affect. There are optimal levels of arousal for each task to be learned. The optimal level of arousal is:
  • higher for tasks requiring endurance and persistence
  • lower for more difficult or intellectually (cognitive) tasks
For more information, see arousal

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