The Effect of Distractors on Physiological Stress During a Test
Journal of Advanced Student Sciences (JASS)
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College exams are undoubtedly stressful, but when external distractions are present most students would say that it is even harder to concentrate. Distractions could lead to a physiological stress response and potentially a poorer performance. Previous studies suggest that noise can lead to increased stress hormone release as well as decreased performance of a task requiring concentration or thought. We wondered how common test-day distractions might affect an individual’s physiological stress response. We hypothesized that taking tests in a distracting environment would lead to elevated stress when compared to an quiet environment. Twenty UW-Madison undergraduate students completed three basic knowledge tests: the first in silence, the second with background noises (i.e. whispering and paper rustling), and the third with a proctor standing over the participant’s shoulder. We chose to measure heart rate, Electrodermal Activity (EDA), and respiratory amplitude. Paired t-tests showed that there was a significant difference in heart rate and EDA under stimuli while there was no significant difference in the respiratory amplitude. This all suggests that distractions during tests do cause measurable stress in test-takers, especially background noise.