skip to main content


Title: The dynamic experience of taking an examination: Ever changing cortisol and expectancy for success
Abstract Background

This study examined the relations between students' expectancies for success and a physiological component of test anxiety, salivary cortisol, during an authentic testing setting.

Aims

The aim of the study was to better understand the connection between shifts in students' control appraisals and changes in the physiological component of test anxiety.

Sample

The study comprised 45 undergraduate engineering majors in the United States.

Methods

Survey data concerning students' expectancy for success and saliva samples were taken before, during and after the practice midterm examination prior to their actual in‐class examination.

Results

Students' expectancy for success declined during the examination while cortisol levels declined from the beginning to middle of the examination and began to increase again as a function of time. Although students' initial levels of expectancy for success and cortisol were not correlated, there was a negative relation between change in cortisol and change in expectancy for success.

Conclusions

Our study demonstrates a relation between salivary cortisol, a physiological component of test anxiety and students' expectancy for success in an authentic testing context. Most students saw a decrease in cortisol during the examination, suggesting anticipatory anxiety prior to the test and a return to homeostasis as the examination progressed. Some students, however, did not see a declination in cortisol, suggesting they may not have recovered from pre‐examination anxiety. The negative relation between change in cortisol and expectancy for success suggests that students who had the greatest decrease in expectancy for success saw the smallest recovery in cortisol.

 
more » « less
Award ID(s):
2120451 1661100
NSF-PAR ID:
10480672
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ;
Publisher / Repository:
British Journal of Educational Psychology
Date Published:
Journal Name:
British Journal of Educational Psychology
Volume:
93
Issue:
S1
ISSN:
0007-0998
Page Range / eLocation ID:
195 to 210
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Maternal prenatal psychosocial stress is associated with adverse hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis (HPAA) function among infants. Although the biological mechanisms influencing this process remain unknown, altered DNA methylation is considered to be one potential mechanism. We investigated associations between maternal prenatal psychological distress, infant salivary DNA methylation, and stress physiology at 12 months. Mother's distress was measured via depression and anxiety in early and late pregnancy in a cohort of 80 pregnant adolescents. Maternal hair cortisol was collected during pregnancy. Saliva samples were collected from infants at 12 months to quantify DNA methylation of three stress‐related genes (FKBP5,NR3C1,OXTR) (n = 62) and diurnal cortisol (n = 29). Multivariable linear regression was used to test for associations between prenatal psychological distress, and infant DNA methylation and cortisol. Hair cortisol concentrations in late pregnancy were negatively associated with two sites ofFKBP5(site 1:B = −22.33,p = .003; site 2:B = −15.60,p = .012). Infants of mothers with elevated anxiety symptoms in late pregnancy had lower levels ofOXTR2CpG2 methylation (B = −2.17,p = .03) and higher evening salivary cortisol (B = 0.41,p = .03). Furthermore,OXTR2methylation was inversely associated with evening cortisol (B = −0.14,p‐value ≤ .001). Our results are, to our knowledge, the first evidence that the methylation of the oxytocin receptor may contribute to the regulation of HPAA during infancy.

     
    more » « less
  2. ABSTRACT

    We examined interactions between baseline hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis and parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) activity in relation to executive functions (EF) in a sample (n = 1,005) of children in low wealth, nonurban communities at age 48 months. Salivary cortisol and respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) represented baseline HPA axis and PNS activity, respectively. The interaction between RSA and cortisol predicted EF such that children with either lower RSA and lower cortisol, or higher RSA and higher cortisol had higher EF scores. These findings suggest a potential compensatory relation in which the PNS and HPA axis counterbalance each other to support cognition.

     
    more » « less
  3. The reliability of two novel cortisol sensors was evaluated by detecting variations in salivary cortisol levels of college students. The diurnal salivary cortisol fluctuations in 50 college students were monitored, and the sensor results were compared with commercial immunoassays. The chemical sensors were prepared using two different methodologies; electrodeposition and cold atmospheric plasma deposition. The comparison between these two methods shows the potential of proposed methods over conventional cortisol assays. The sensitivity of plasma deposited cortisol sensor increased from 0.918 to 3.04μA/(μg dl−1). Sensors fabricated using the plasma technique showed repeatability and provided a direct readout with a faster response.

     
    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Test anxiety is a major concern in education because it causes uncomfortable feelings in test-anxious students and may reduce the validity of exam scores as a measure of learning. As such, brief and cost-effective interventions are necessary to minimize the negative impact of test anxiety on students’ academic performance. In the present experiment, we examine two such interventions: expressive writing (Experiment 1) and an instructional intervention (Experiment 2), with the latter developed from a similar intervention for stereotype threat. Across four authentic exams in a psychology class, students alternated between completing the intervention and a control task immediately before completing the exams. Neither intervention was effective at reducing test anxiety or improving exam performance. The present results suggest that these interventions may not be successful in addressing the impacts of test anxiety in all classroom settings.

     
    more » « less
  5. Abstract Objectives

    We quantified variation in fecal cortisol across reproductive periods in Azara's owl monkeys (Aotus azarae) to examine physiological mechanisms that may facilitate biparental care. Specifically, we evaluated evidence for the explanation that owl monkeys have hormonal mechanisms to mobilize energy during periods when each sex is investing heavily in reproduction, that is, the gestation period for females and the infant care period for males.

    Materials and methods

    Between 2011 and 2015, we monitored 10 groups of Azara's owl monkeys from a wild population in Formosa, Argentina and collected fecal samples from 26 adults (13 males, 13 females). Using enzyme‐linked immunosorbent assays, we quantified fecal cortisol as a proxy for evaluating stress responses, including energetic demands, on both sexes during periods of reproduction and parental care.

    Results

    Male cortisol was lowest during periods when they were caring for young infants (<3 months) compared with periods with older infants or no infant. Female cortisol was elevated during gestation compared with other periods. Mean fecal cortisol in both males and females was lower when an infant was present compared with when females were gestating.

    Discussion

    Our results do not support the hypothesis that owl monkey males have elevated fecal cortisol during periods when they need to mobilize energy to provide intensive infant care. Our findings are also inconsistent with the Maternal Relief hypothesis. However, results from studies measuring fecal cortisol must be interpreted with care and alternative explanations, such as seasonal fluctuations in diet and thermoenergic demands, should be considered when drawing conclusions.

     
    more » « less