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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
FAGLEY, W. H. (2002). The Effects of Performance Anxiety on Perception of Tempo. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 5. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved September 26, 2023 .

The Effects of Performance Anxiety on Perception of Tempo

Sponsored by: MUKUL BHALLA (bhalla@loyno.edu)
The purpose of this research was two look at a possible relationship between state-anxiety and perception of musical tempo. It was hypothesized that if performance anxiety were experienced, then tempo would be perceived as faster then remembered. Fifty-two college students (18 males/34 females, M age = 20.5) were placed into groups receiving one of two conditions. The experimental groups received an anxiety-provoking treat while the control group did not receive such a threat. While doing a cover task, both groups were exposed to two music clips and asked to distinguish the former clip’s tempo as slower, faster, or the same from the later clip’s tempo. No significant differences were found between conditions. Sources of error and implications are discussed.

Many new musicians will speed up when performing for the first time. To the knowledge of this researcher, empirical studies on this event have never been conducted. It is important to examine this so that such an event could be predicted and forewarned to musicians before a performance. The objective of this research is to study rhythm memory and how it is affected by performance anxiety. Performance anxiety (or stage fright) has two reported sources: internal (trait) sources and external (state) sources. Internal traits seem to be predominately more predictive of performance anxiety vulnerability than the external situation (Ayres, 1986; McCroskey & Beatty, 1986). There is a large discrepancy between speculations for the trait causes of performance anxiety and what the empirical research says (Bippus and Daly, 1999). Despite these discrepancies, the research shows the primary causes of performance anxiety are low self-esteem, shyness, public self-consciousness, fearfulness, and evaluation anxiety (Buss, 1980). All of these factors are personality traits with the exception of evaluation anxiety, which is an external/state-anxiety situation. Evaluation can be manipulated, which would increase the chances of one experiencing performance anxiety. The physiological effects of performance anxiety are similar to those of fear. They are: sweating, rapid breathing, increase blood pressure and pounding heart. These symptoms have been reported to occur even before a performer goes on stage (Behnke & Carlile, 1971). Epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol were also found to increase in states of distress before a musician’s performances (Fredrikson and Gunnarsson, 1992). Epinephrine causes the heart to pump harder, which changes the blood flow and reduces the churning movements in the stomach that have been said to feel like “butterflies in your stomach” (SarVaas, 1997). Knowing that these effects of performance anxiety occur shortly before one goes on stage, it is possible to get a valid assessment of performance anxiety before a performance.One therapist who works with performers describes her clients’ cognitive reactions during stage fright as loss of memory, concentration, and general orientation (Kruger, 1993). However, empirical research relating state-anxiety and cognitive impairments has not been seen. Forty-two elderly patients who scored high in levels of state-anxiety showed no impairments on general memory performance (Levy & Jodi, 2001). In an experiential study of spider phobia, an experimental group (phobic) and a control group (non-phobic) viewed a film about spiders. While only the experimental group experienced anxiety during the film, both groups had an even recollection of the film’s content (Thorpe & Salkovskis, 2000). Results from 3,999 Vietnam veterans’ California Verbal Learning Test scores and MMPI-2 scores showed that subjects with high psychasthenia (Pt) levels showed no significant relationship to any aspect of impaired memory functioning. However, when high Pt scales were compounded by high depression (D) levels, there was significant loss of general memory functioning (Kizilbash, Vanderploeg, and Curtiss, 2002). The State Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) has consistently shown strong correlations with the MMPI-2’s D and Pt scales (Novy et al., 1993). Because of the strong correlation between these two tests, an inference could be made that a high STAI scores could correlate with low memory scores, just as the two MMPI scales did. These previous studies on memory and anxiety assessed verbal specific areas of memory and failed to look at musical or rhythm memory. The populations in these studies also all consisted of participants who ranked high on a trait anxiety or had an anxiety disorder. It is unclear what the results would be within a presumed normal undergraduate population. The aim of this study was to find empirical data about this highly speculated, but under researched area of musical perception. It was hypothesized that if performance anxiety is experienced, then the tempo of music will be perceived as faster then previously remembered. The experiment investigated the effect of an anxiety provoking threat on the recall of the tempo in a piece of music.


Fifty-two undergraduates from Loyola University New Orleans (18 males/34 females) volunteered to participate. Participants were convenience sampled in their classes. Some participants received extra credit in their classes for participating.

A JVC digital video camera (model GR-DVM70) was used on a standard tripod six feet high. While no videotaping was ever done, the presence of the camera was necessary for the deception used in the study to educe anxiety. Two Fuji DR-I, type I, normal position audiotapes were be used to play the music sample. The music clip was a 29-second clip from a song by a local New Orleans funk band. “Tape A” was written on a green label and “Tape B” was written on a blue label, both in black marker. The labels were inserted into the cases of the tapes. The music was 79 beats per minute and contains a horn section, drums, bass and guitar. The tape was played on a Sony TCM-323 cassette-recorder. Four new Duracell Ultra “AA” batteries were put in the cassette player before the study.The anxiety inventory used was Form Y-1 of the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI)(Speilberger, 1983). The scale is a sensitive indicator of transitory anxiety and was selected for its long-standing reliability and validity of state-anxiety in white, black, Hispanic populations (Novy et al., 1993). The inventory consists of twenty statements, which participants are to read and then circle the appropriate number next to the statement that indicates how they felt at that moment (1-“Not at all”, 2-“Somewhat”, 3-“Moderatly so”, 4-“Very much so”). A few example statements from the inventory are “I feel tense” and “I feel calm” (see Appendix A).Pens were given to complete all forms, although some participants used their own writing utensils. Two copies of informed consent forms were distributed to each participant. The rest of the paper materials were color-coded and were referred to by their color. The yellow sheet contained a copy of Antony’s monologue in Act 3, Scene 1, line 255 from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (see Appendix B). This sheet was used only in the first study. The blue sheet contained the STAI (form Y-1), along with demographic questions and the rhythm memory question (see Appendix C), and for the experimental group. The rhythm memory question simply asked the participants to circle their perception of the tempo of the second music clip compared to the first music clip (Slower, Same, Faster). The green sheet only contained the rhythm memory question and was used for the control group.

The experiment used a between groups experimental design. The independent variable was the level of state-anxiety experienced by the participants. This could be manipulated by the threat of evaluation and public performance. Levels of state-anxiety were operationally defined by STAI form Y-1 scores. The dependent variable was the memory of the tempo of the music, which was operationally defined by the response to the rhythm memory question.Forty-five participants signed up to participate and gave their contact information to the researcher. When signing up for the study, a cover story was given that the study was going to be investigating the effects of hearing music on memory recall.All groups were tested in sessions during the afternoon. Testing was administered in a classroom on the campus of Loyola University. All participants filled out a consent form before any testing procedures were conducted. The testing room for the experimental groups was set-up with the recording equipment. The camcorder was placed in the front of the room and pointed towards the lectern. After participants arrived, the researcher delivered a copy of the monolog (yellow paper) and the questionnaire (blue paper) upside down to the desks of the participants. The researcher instructed the participants to not to turn over sheets until instructed to do so. On the lectern in the front of the room, in sight of all participants, were “Tape A” and “Tape B”. The researcher instructed the participants they were going to listen to music. The researcher picked up “Tape A” and played it at a medium volume. After the music played, the researcher instructed the participants to turn over the yellow sheet with the monolog. The researcher then told the participants to learn it as quickly as possible in the next five minutes so they could perform it from memory for the rest of the group and the video camera. The researcher then informed the group that after they performed, they would watch the performances and evaluate each other as a group. The researcher started the group and began timing. After the time elapsed, the researcher told the participants to flip monologs back over. The research told the group to listen to a second tape before they started performing. “Tape B” was then immediately played. When the taped ended, the researcher instructed the participants to fill out the blue sheet, which contained the anxiety inventory and the rhythm memory question. Once everyone completed the sheet, the group was debriefed and thanked for their time. No recording was ever done.The procedure for the control group was the same except there was no anxiety provoking threat. The control group received monologs to read over for five minutes, but the group was not asked to memorize it. No camera was set up.

The hypothesis for this study was that subjects in the experimental group would perceive the tempo as faster. In the experimental condition (n = 31), 3 subjects perceived the tempo as being slower, 17 subjects perceived the tempo the same, and 11 subjects perceived the tempo faster. In the control condition (n = 21), 3 subjects perceived the tempo slower, 15 subjects perceived the tempo the same, and 3 subjects perceived the tempo faster (see Table 1). A 3 (perception) x 2 (condition) chi-square analysis indicated that ƒÓ2(2, N = 52) = 2.880, p = .237. The interaction between perception of tempo and condition was not seen as significant. A t-test of STAI scores for females (M = 51.6, SD = 12.7) and males (M = 41.2, SD = 8.2) showed t(10) = 2.532, p < .05 and that the mean of female STAI scores were significantly higher then the mean of male STAI scores. A 3 (perception) x 2 (sex) chi-square analysis indicated that the interaction between perception of tempo and sex was not significant ƒÓ2(2, N = 52) = 2.078, p = .354.

This research was concerned with the relationship between levels of state-anxiety and the perception of the tempo in a piece of music in a controlled setting. The results do not give any support to the current hypothesis that there is a significant difference between the two conditions. We fail to reject the null hypothesis because our obtained value of ÷2 (2.880) is less then our critical value of ÷2 (5.991). These results are in support with the finds of Levy & Jodi (2001) who found no significant differences between levels of state-anxiety and memory performance. Their research used a population of elderly persons while this research used a population of college students, but these results are remain consistent despite the sampling difference. These results do not seem to be consistent with the findings of Kizilbash, Vanderploeg, and Curtiss (2002) who found memory impairments in those scoring high in anxiety on the MMPI-2. This inconsistency might exist because the MMPI-2 assesses personally traits while our testing instrument assesses state-anxiety. One difference that emerged showed that there were significant differences between gender and levels of anxiety. This is not an uncommon occurrence in relation to other findings. In a review of the validity of the STAI, Novy (1998) found that females tend to score higher in state-anxiety then males. One noticeable trend was observed between group sizes and mean scores of the STAI. The fallowing inverse relationship was observed: Group Three (n = 18, M = 45, SD = 11), Group One (n = 9, M = 49, SD = 10), and Group Two (n = 4, M = 55, SD = 18). This trend could indicate that the cover story was more believable in smaller groups then with larger groups. Larger groups might have realized it was unlikely to videotape so many people in such a short period of time. Another possibility could be that the demand was too over whelming to be believable. This study failed to collect STAI data from the control group. It was originally thought that a control group would only be needed to get a mark of perceptions and it was assumed that a group without the experimental condition would not be anxious. However upon review, STAI scores for the control group should have been recorded to be sure that the experimental condition was causing a significant difference in the levels of state anxiety.A future study might want to use the first form of the STAI (which measures trait-anxiety) along with the second form. It could be that it is only people who are a nervous-type perceive a faster tempo while under anxiety.In this study, the participants heard the two pieces of music within a matter of five minutes. In reality, musicians can go up to forty-eight hours since they last heard the music. A future study might want to increase the length of the music clip and also increase the delay time between playing the two tapes. This phenomenon’s roots may not be with just state anxiety. Perhaps it’s linked to something more specific such as an increased heart rate. It could also have nothing to do with anxiety at all and the variability is due to cognitive differences in the way we perceive music. It is important that further investigation be done in this under-researched area of perception so that we can finally understand this mystery.

Ayres, J. (1986). Perceptions of speaking ability: an explanation for stage fright. Communication Education, 35, 275-286.Behnke, R. R., & Carlile, L. W. (1971). Heart rate as an index of speech anxiety. Speech Monographs, 38, 65-69.Bippus, A. M., & Daly, J. A. (1999). What do people think causes stage fright? Naïve attributions about the reasons for public speaking anxiety. Communication Education, 48, 63–72.Buss, A. H. (1980). Self-consciousness and social anxiety. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman and Company.Fredrikson, M., & Gunnarsson, R. (1992). Psychobiology of stage fright: The effect of public performance on neuroendocrine, cardiovascular and subjective reactions. Biological Psychology, 33, 51-61.Kizilbash, A. H., Vanderploeg, R. D., & Curtiss, G. (2002). The effects of depression and anxiety on memory performance. Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology, 17, 57-67.Kruger, T. I. (1993). Performance Power (E. H. Tarr, Trans.). Tempe: Summit Books.Levy, C., & Jodi, S. (2001). The effects of anxiety on memory performance in the able elderly. Dissertation Abstracts International, 61,(8-B), 4414-4422.McCroskey, J. C., & Beatty, M. J. (1986). Oral Communication Apprehension. In W. H. Jones, J. M. Cheek, and S. R. Briggs (Ed.), Shyness (pp. 279-293). New York: Plenum Press.Novy, D. M., Nelson, D.V., Goddwin, J., & Rowzee, R.D. (1993). Psychometric comparability of the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory for different ethnic subpopulations. Psychological Assessment, 5, 343-349.SerVaas, C. (1997). Why do I get butterflies in my stomach when I`m nervous? U.S. Kids, 10, 35.Speilberger, C. D. (1983). Manual for the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (Form Y-1). Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.Thorpe, S. J., & Salkovskis, P. M. (2000). Recall and recognition memory for spider information. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 14, 359-375.

Submitted 6/2/2002 12:50:13 AM
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