Differential Effects of Test Anxiety and Stress on the WAIS-IV

Authors:  Maheen Chaudhry and Rebecca Ready
Date:  November, 2012


High-stake decisions are based on neuropsychological test data, such as diagnosis of specific learning disabilities and mental retardation.  Thus, it is crucial to understand how anxiety and stress affect test scores on the most popular and current IQ measure, Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale – Fourth Edition (WAIS-IV).  Previous studies have shown negative effects of self-reported anxiety on performance on various cognitive tasks; however, these studies either used a single measure of anxiety or tested a limited number of subtests from previous versions of the WAIS.  The current study sought to examine the relationship of anxiety (as determined by self-report data), stress (as determined by physiological data), and performance on the WAIS-IV.  Participants (n = 25) were administered the WAIS-IV in the study that took approximately two-and-half hours.  Four saliva samples approximately evenly spaced out throughout the study were collected to determine the cortisol levels.  Participants’ mood and anxiety levels were determined via self-reported data on PANAS, TIPI, and an anxiety questionnaire.  Results indicated that only the WAIS-IV Perceptual Reasoning Index significantly correlated with self-reported test anxiety (r = -0.40, p < 0.05) and with average cortisol during testing (r = 0.41, p < 0.05).  This means that the participants who reported higher test anxiety performed worse than those who reported lower test anxiety, and greater cortisol was associated with better performance on perceptual reasoning tasks.  However, no significant correlations were found in regards to processing speed, verbal comprehension, and working memory.  The findings demonstrated the need to interpret the WAIS-IV scores in a way to eliminate the confound effects of anxiety and stress on performance.