Solving Mathematical Problems Under Pressure Theory

Beilock & Carr (2005) investigates the theory that pressure harms performance in solving mathematical problems by reducing the working memory capacity available for the execution skill. The study hypothesizes that individuals low in working memory capacity (LWMs) are more prone to choke under pressure than are individuals high in working memory capacity “because LWMs have limited capacity to computer problem solutions to begin with” (p. 102).  An alternative hypothesis states that individuals high in working memory capacity (HWMs) might be more prone to pressure-induced failure. This can happen because HWMs’ working memory “advantage may be just what makes them susceptible to failure when pressure is added, if pressure-induced consumption of working memory denies them the capacity they normally rely on to produce their superior performance” (p. 102). For methodology, undergraduate students at Michigan State University were recruited in the study. Participants were divided into an LWM group and an HWM group. They were presented with one equation-word string at a time on a computer. Students had to read the word aloud and verify if it makes sense. Also, participants were asked to judge MA problems as quickly as possible without sacrificing accuracy. They pressed the “T” or “F” key to indicate true or false. Participants were told that the computer used reaction time (RT) to compute a modular arithmetic (MA) score. The results of the study showed that HWMs’ performance on low-demand problems did not differ as a function of pressure but their performance on high-demand problems declined significantly on the high-pressure test. This shows an association between pressure and consumption of the working memory. However, individual LWMs did not show significant decrements under pressure. This is an example of dissociation for this group. Furthermore, the mean accuracy for the group with LWMs was higher for high pressure in comparison to low pressure. An example of a mental process is when the researchers measured students’ reaction time, and an example of mental representation would be students’  judgments on whether the problem was true or false.   

Work CitedShaw, J., & Porter, S. (2013). Constructing Rich False Memories of Committing Crime. PsycEXTRA Dataset. doi: 10.1037/e571212013-048

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