“To succeed in school” write the authors of a new paper on emotional regulation and academic performance, “students in today’s educational landscape must perform at a high level on a variety of evaluative assessments despite the academic performance anxiety that often permeates these high-stakes situations.”
Fortunately, two simple interventions could help students decrease the psychological distress and harness the physiological arousal caused by summative assessments: expressive writing and arousal reappraisal. Here is how the researchers describe them:
“Expressive writing interventions target the cognitive component of anxiety (i.e., worries) by asking individuals to write about and express their thoughts and concerns. Expressive writing may help individuals develop insights that can aid emotion regulation and perceived control of stressful situations, thereby ‘offloading’ worries and freeing cognitive resources tthat can be used to optimize performance. Arousal reappraisal interventions may help individuals manage the physiological component of anxiety (i.e., arousal) by asking them to reinterpret the utility of heightened aroual as a resource that can improve rather than harm performance.”
To test this hypothesis, the team conducted a large-scale field experiment, randomly allocating 1,175 American freshmen to one of four conditions: active control, expressive writing, arousal reappraisal, and a mix of the last two. The interventions were implemented right before the students’ semester exams in Biology, and proved very effective in increasing performance.
Interestingly, the effect was mostly concentrated among low-income students, who also reported higher anxiety levels before the exercises. Consequently, the emotional regulation exercises were reduced the gap between low- and high-income students by almost 30%, and slashed the former’s course failure rate in half.
This is obviously very important in a course such as Biology, success in STEM field creating great career opportunities for those who need them the most.
Reference: Rozek, Ramirez, Fine, and Beilok, “Reducing socioeconomic disparities in the STEM pipeline through student emotion regulation”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 2019.