Investigating the Physiological Response of Anxiety Through General Knowledge and Math Questionnaires, with a Focus of Inducing Anxiety Through Music.

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Investigating the physiological response of anxiety through general knowledge and math questionnaires, with a focus of inducing anxiety through music.

The aim of this study was to investigate the physiological effects associated with math anxiety, with a further aim to explore this in relation to tense music exposure. It was hypothesised that a maths questionnaire would produce a significantly higher anxiety response than a general knowledge questionnaire. It was also hypothesised that exposure to tense music would produce a significantly greater anxiety response than silence. Furthermore, it would be expected to observe a significant interaction between the music condition and question type. The results of a mixed subject’s factorial ANOVA revealed that participants’ heart rate was significantly higher when presented with the math questionnaire over the general knowledge questionnaire. The presence of tense music did not significantly influence the level of physiological arousal. The only conclusion drawn therefore is that math questions elicit greater physiological arousal than general knowledge questions.

Anxiety, like fear, is an emotion. It is a normal and totally necessary biological survival mechanism which everybody experiences. It tells us that something is a threat to our survival and motivates us to confront or avoid that threat. (Simmons & Daw, 1994).

Fear can be distinguished from anxiety in that fear focuses on specific situations or objects and occurs in their proximity, whereas anxiety occurs in anticipation of such. The amount of anxiety we feel should be proportionate to the reality of the threat posed by the situation, however, sometimes this is not the case.

It is important to realise that this biological response is in essence the same as that experienced by other animals. However, in humans who have the power of thought or conceptualisation, the ability to anticipate fear or anxiety itself becomes part of the cycle of anxiety and makes the problem more complex. (Simmons & Daw, 1994)

The concept of anxiety can be dated back as far as Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC). The basis of Aristotle’s philosophy was that for every trait: there is an excess, a deficiency and between the two, a mean - the mean being the optimum or most desirable amount of the trait. For shame, he indicates that an excess of the trait would be shamelessness, the mean, modesty, and the deficiency being shyness. This can be related to anxiety in that someone who is shy can be said to be feeling too much anxiety whereas a shameless person therefore lacks a certain amount of anxiety. Aristotle’s aim was for one to be conscious of experiencing the optimum amount of anxiety given the situation or circumstance. (The Anxiety Support Network, Accessed 25/02/2012).

Many people suffer from continual unrealistic, unfounded amounts of fear and anxiety. This is where anxiety and fear build up and exceed rational and beneficial levels, known as anxiety disorders. The most common anxiety disorder is that of simple phobias, estimated to affect one in ten (Barondes 1993; cited Wicken 2009). A more serious anxiety disorder is that of panic disorder. This can be characterized by the rapid onset of very apparent, overt physiological symptoms such as shortness of breath, irregularities in heartbeat and a variety of other autonomic symptoms. Somebody with a social anxiety disorder would be characterized by an excessive fear of being exposed to the scrutiny of other people, leading to avoidance of social situations. Furthermore, generalised anxiety disorder consumes one’s life with excessive anxiety and worry causing major disruption. (Carlson, 2010).

Some people suffer from mathematics related anxiety. This has been characterized as an adverse emotional reaction to math or the prospect of doing math (Richardson & Suinn, 1972; cited Micke et al 2011). Individuals with high maths anxiety tend to perform poorly when...
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