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Eysenck Theories’ Analysis Research Paper

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Updated: Nov 27th, 2019

Processing efficiency theory

This theory was offered by Eysenck in 1982 and was later developed by this and other scientists, including Calvo and Derakshan (Chong, 2003). The theory is based on the assumption that there is a strong interdependence between the stress level and the ability of an individual to perform different tasks.

To be more specific, the focus is put not on the final task performance, but on the process of its performance and its efficiency. Thus, the distinction between effectiveness and efficiency is crucial (Eysenck, 2007). According to the author, while the task performance quality can be unaffected by the stress and worry, the processing, including the efforts spent on task performance and the resources of mind and the whole organism are more vulnerable to stress (Eysenck, 1992).

The theory also takes into consideration the different psychological types of individuals, which determine one’s level of anxiety. Thus, it is implied in the theory that the high level of anxiety allows an individual to operate the resources more efficiently while dealing with a difficult task, which can lead to the better final performance of the task comparing to the low anxiety individuals.

However, in the long term perspective high anxiety is undesirable, as it demands more efforts to be spent in order to preserve the capacity of work. In addition, the high anxious individuals ”devote more of their processing resources to worry” (Wilson, 2007), which can lead to a poor task performance.

The theory has been tested and applied to a number of experimental works, which allowed checking its sufficiency and finding the possible gaps. It has to be noted, that most of the theory’s points have been supported by the studies. Moreover, the theory can be referred to as rather flexible, due to its “consideration of compensatory effect” (Wilson, 2007), which means taking into account all the possible effects of both high and low anxiety levels.

However, there are still some aspect that need further investigation and explanation. For instance, here is a point in studying the factors which contribute to the general anxiety level, and as a result can affect the processing efficiency (Eyseck & Calvo, 1992). In addition, the theory does not embrace the skills which can be gained by an individual in order to work in the conditions of stress effectively. Therefore, the theory can be treated as reliable enough, however its imperfections should also be considered.

Attentional control theory

This theory is tightly connected to the processing efficiency theory, analyzed earlier in this paper. The attentional control theory also defends the point of view that anxiety tends to impair the processing efficiency (Eysenck, 2007). However, this theory focuses on the possibility of an individual to regulate their attention in different conditions, thus being more or less attentive depending on the conditions (Rueda, 2004).

Within the theory framework, the ability to focus is opposed to distractibility. The distractors are in turn subdivided into threatening and non-threatening, implying that the former ones cause a greater distractibility (Eysenck, 1992). In addition, the attentional control theory also considers the different types of temperament, which determine the predisposition of an individual to being distracted.

Thus, highly anxious individuals are more vulnerable to distraction in comparison with those having a low anxiety level. The processing efficiency is argued to be more affected by the distraction than the general task effectiveness, however the two factors are interconnected (Eysenck, 2007).

The critical analysis of the attentional control theory should be started with a statement that its findings have a solid theoretical foundation and constitute a basis for further psychological and neurological investigations. However, just like any other theory, this one has its own points to be improved.

First of all, it should be noted that the studies related to the attentional control theory mostly deal with the central executive functions (Eysenck, 1992), and therefore there is a need to investigate the attention control in relation to other functions. Next, some recent studies prove the fact that the ability to focus and vulnerability to distraction are highly dependent on the specific environment and conditions of task performance. In other words, attentional control can be adopted to the modified conditions (Wilder, 2009).

This points to the fact that it would be sensible to investigate the attention control abilities in relation to the changing conditions. Finally, it has been proved that “attentional control can be rapidly tuned as the task or environment changes” (Mozer, 2009). Thus, different kinds of tasks can lead to different attention control levels, which is another direction on the way to broaden the theory’s concept.

Conscious processing hypothesis

Conscious processing hypothesis is another theory related to the influence of anxiety on the ability of an individual to perform the task successfully. It was developed in early 90s by Masters and later studied by Hardy, Mullen, Jones, and other scientists. This hypothesis was initially developed for the sports studies, which tried to explain the poor results of some of the skillful athletes. According to the theory, the high level of anxiety is likely to force a sportsman to focus on the very process of the action instead on the desired goals.

This involves the conscious control of actions, as opposed to the automatic task performance. The difference is that the former involves putting an effort into focusing on every action, which is characteristic of the early stages of learning (Mullen, 2010), while the latter implies the “unconscious, covertly controlled processes” (Mullen, 2005), typical of professional sportsmen who have perfected their skills.

Besides separating the individuals into those with high and low levels of anxiety, it is relevant for the conscious processing hypothesis to subdivide them into those with implicit and explicit learning styles (Hardy, 1996). Consequently, the learners who gain implicit knowledge are likely to show better task performance, while the ones with explicit knowledge will have worse performance in the conditions of stress and anxiety.

The conscious processing hypothesis proved to be a real breakthrough in the cognitive studies, as it found its practical implication right away after introduction. That is why, the interest to the theory is still increasing, and its investigation is being continued. Undoubtedly, there are many aspects to be studied or improved in the theory.

One of them is the distinction between the different kinds and levels of performance. As it was noted by one of the scholars, it would be absolutely unacceptable to state that the “components of performance prone to a breakdown in cricket would be the same as those in cycling or rugby” (Graydon, 2002).

Therefore, there is sense in distinguishing between the different components of performance needed for different kinds of sport. Moreover, the study can be expanded beyond the sphere of sport. The pattern of anxiety influencing the level of performance can be observed in different spheres, and it points to the fact that the conscious processing hypothesis can be applied to various activities and fields of science (Davis, 2005).

Theory of ironic effects

The theory was introduced by Wegner in 1994. The theory is based on the simultaneous functioning of two processes in the human mind: intentional operating process and ironic monitoring process. The first process is responsible for developing strategies, which allow achieving the needed results, while the second process reflects the scenario that would happen in case of failure (Wegner, 1998).

These processes constitute a single control system, which means that the start of the first process automatically causes the start of the second one. To be more specific, these processes work parallel, however in case of occurrence of stress situation they start to interfere. In case of good attention and low anxiety level, an individual is capable of following the successful scenario; however, in case of being distracted or unable to deal with the task, an individual will face the activation of the ironic monitoring process.

This, in turn, will lead to a set of thoughts, emotions, and actions, aimed at achieving of what was indicated as a failure. Such dysfunction may also be caused by “high cognitive workload” (Hart, 2006), which weakens the conscious effort to show a good performance and activates the unconscious processes, which continue to develop the failure strategies.

Despite the controversial character of the theory, it discusses a very important point. Indeed, the ironical effects often happen in different spheres, and the greater is the person’s preoccupation with avoiding the failure, the higher is the possibility of ironic effect occurrence. It has also been proved that the ironical effects depend on the intention of an individual to control, and on the level of ability of certain processes to be controlled by the mind (Wegner, 1994).

As an example, when an individual tries to deny their anxiety, they spend extra resources and this leads to the ironic effects (Woodman, 2008). This is often observed in sports, where the performance of athletes depends on their mental capabilities and psychological state. The further development of the theory may lead to an invention of strategies of ironic effects prevention. This will allow avoiding the undesirable scenarios and improve the performance in different spheres.

Catastrophe models

The term “catastrophe models” is used to denote a scenario, when the task performance is doomed to failure. In 1975, Thom developed a theory known as catastrophe theory in order to explain the nature of failures, and in 1990 Hardy narrowed this concept down to the psychological frames (Hardy, 2006).

The key elements in the theory are the cognitive component and the psychological arousal component. According to the theory, in case of low physiological arousal, the cognitive anxiety can improve the performance. However, the effect is reverse in case the physiological arousal is high (Moran, 2004).

On the other hand, the low cognitive anxiety level suggests that the physiological arousal will continue only until a certain point, after reaching which the further arousal will be impossible. In other words, the successful performance demands reaching a balance between the cognitive anxiety and somatic anxiety levels, as their interdependence is undeniable (Hardy, 2004).

However, the complicated point in this condition is the fact that both the cognition anxiety and the physiological arousal can be controlled by an individual only partially, while to the greater extent these processes are unconscious. Therefore, the performance level will again be bind to the psychological peculiarities and temperament type of an individual.

The theory of catastrophe models investigates a three-dimensional relationships, consisting of cognition anxiety, the physiological arousal, and performance quality. This makes the theory many-sided and opens many directions for investigation. On the other side, the existence of three components makes the theory rather complicated and proves an impediment to setting numerous experiments.

That is why, the conducted studies connected to the topic present diverse results, which prove the theory of catastrophe models only partially. In addition, sport remains the only sphere where the theory has been applied, which leaves place for further development of the theory.

Reference List

Chong, B (2003). Anxiety and working memory: An investigation and reconceptualisation of the processing efficiency theory. A thesis. London: School of Psychology.

Davis, P, Sime, W (2005). Toward a psychophysiology of performance: Sport psychology principles dealing with anxiety. International Journal of Stress Management, 12(4): 363-378.

Eysenck, M (1992). Anxiety: The cognitive perspective. NY: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Ltd.

Eysenck, M, Calvo, M (1992). Anxiety and performance: The processing efficiency theory. Cognition and Emotion, 6(6): 409-434.

Eysenck, M, Santos, R, Derakshan, N, Calvo, M (2007). Anxiety and cognitive performance: Attentional control theory. Emotion, 7(2): 336-353.

Graydon, J (2002). Stress and anxiety in sport. The Psychologist, 15(8): 408-410.

Hardy, L, Beattie, S, Woodman, T (2006). Anxiety-induced performance catastrophes: Investigating effort required as an asymmetry factor. British Journal of Psychology.

Hardy, L, Mullen, R, Jones, G (1996). Knowledge and conscious control of motor actions under stress. British Journal of Psychology, 87: 621-636.

Hardy, L, Woodman, T, Carrington, S (2004). Is self-confidence a bias factor in higher-order catastrophe models? An exploratory analysis. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 26: 359-368.

Hart, C, Randell, J (2006). Ironic effects of mental control in problem solving: Implementation of ineffective strategies. American Journal of Psychological Research, 2(1): 40-45.

Moran, A (2004). Sport and exercise psychology: A critical introduction. NY: Routledge.

Mozer, M, Baldwin, D (2009). Experience-guided search: A theory of attentional control. NY: Oxford.

Mullen, R, Hardy, L (2010). Conscious Processing and the process goal paradox. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 32: 275-297.

Mullen, R, Hardy, L, Tattersall, A (2010). The effect of anxiety on motor performance: A test of the conscious processing hypothesis. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 27: 212-225.

Rueda, M, Posner, M, Rothbart, M (2004). Attentional control and self-regulation. In Baumeister, R. Handbook of self-regulation: Research, theory, and application. NY: Guilford Press.

Wegner, D (1994). Ironic processes of mental control. Psychological Review, 101(1): 34-52.

Wegner, D, Ansfield, M, Piloff, D (1998). The putt and the pendulum: Ironic effects of the mental control of action. Psychological Science, 9(3): 196-199.

Wilder, M, Mozer, M, Wickens, C (2009). A unified theory of attentional control. Colorado: Boulder.

Wilson, M, Smith, N, Holmes, P (2007). The role of effort in influencing the effect of anxiety on performance: Testing the conflicting predictions of processing efficiency theory and the conscious processing hypothesis. British Journal of Psychology, 98: 411-428.

Woodman, T, Davis, P (2008). The role of repression in the incidence of ironic effects. The Sport Psychologist, 22: 184-197.

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