Anxiety and attention in beginning readers

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


This study investigated the relationship between anxiety and attention in high and low anxiety readers during the reading of materials of verging difficulty levels. An A-state reading anxiety scale was developed for the purpose of identifying high end low reading anxiety participants. Response times to a secondary task were measured while high end low reading anxiety participants were engaged in orally reading materials at easy, average, and hard difficulty levels and when not engaged by a primary task.

A repeated measures design was implemented to describe relations between response times to a secondary task and high and low A-state reading anxiety groups for a baseline measure and for the reading of easy, average, and hard materials. Response times served as the dependent measure. Reading anxiety groups (high and low) end difficulty levels (baseline, easy, average and hard) served as independent measures. Difficulty levels were identified relative to both comprehension scores and word recognition scores and analyses were conducted separately for difficulty levels as identified by comprehension scores and for difficulty levels as identified by miscue scores.

The repeated measures analysis demonstrated a significant interaction effect between high and low anxiety groups and difficulty levels (baseline, easy, average, and hard). The results indicated that attention to the reading task differed for high and low anxiety readers at varied difficulty levels. It was demonstrated that high anxiety readers reached high levels of attention to reading materials only at easy reading levels. At average and hard reading levels, high anxiety readers were unable to maintain high levels of attention to the task. Low anxiety readers generally followed the predictions of the Yerkes-Dodson law (1908), allocating more attention to average reading tasks. Findings were discussed with regard to implications of the effects of anxiety on attention to reading and the development of this methodology.