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MOOD REGULATION: ABSORBING ANXIETY BY USING TASK EFFORT

Student’s name, Second student’s name, Maureen Wang Erber*

B.A. in Psychology

 

Controlling or managing our feelings is a captivating idea: we are all interested in it. For example, what do we do to get out of a bad mood? Another question is whether we always want to rid ourselves of bad moods in the first place? Sometimes we actually prolong a sad mood by listening to the blues. One mood, however that most of us do not want is anxiety. The present study examines the regulation of state anxiety in students. Our experiment was based on the Absorption Hypothesis of Erber and Tesser (1992). According to this theory, distraction is not always enough to change our moods.

Erber and Tesser found that happy subjects who completed difficult math problems felt less happy after the task. But sad subjects who completed the math problems also felt less sad. The current study is an attempt to extend the Absorption Model to anxiety and to see whether anxiety can also be reduced through task involvement.

We hypothesized that anxiety can be regulated by concentrating on an activity that is not only distracting, but absorbing as well. 51 undergraduate students participated in the study. They were randomly assigned to either the anxiety or control group. All subjects were told read a speech about sexually transmitted diseases. Subjects in the anxiety condition were lead to believe that they would also be giving the speech and that their speech would be videotaped for others to critique. The control group was simply told to analyze the same speech on sexually transmitted diseases. We measured anxiety in two ways: by taking the subjects’ blood pressure at several points in the experiment and through subjects’ written responses to the state anxiety scale.

After the anxiety induction stage, all subjects completed an anagram (word scramble) task. Half of the subjects completed easy (three or four letters) anagrams and half did difficult anagrams (four to six letters). Different levels of anagram difficulty were used to change the level of absorption in the task. Hard anagrams, being more difficult, should also be more cognitively absorbing and therefore reduce anxiety.

The results showed that there was a significant effect for the interaction between the anxious mood and task difficulty. Subjects who were anxious and who did the easy anagrams remained anxious as measured by the state anxiety scale, whereas subjects who were anxious and who did the hard anagrams were the least anxious of all participants. Thus, the current study supports an extension of the Absorption Hypothesis to include the regulation of anxiety as well.