Maribeth Ekey

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts




The purpose of the present study was to test the appli­ cation of Signal Detection Theory to a model for the development of anxiety. An attempt was made to condi­ tion anxiety responses to decreasing magnitudes of a noxious stimulus through the negative reinforcement of avoidance behavior. An analogue based on Mandler and Watson's (1966) interruption theory was designed. Data from 32 male and female volunteers from the University of Richmond subject pool were used in the final analy­ sis. All students were pretested with Sarason's (1972) Test Anxiety Scale and placed in high- and low-anxiety groups according to their scores on the Scale. An audiometer was used in pre- and posttests to determine sound detection and discomfort levels of each student. After the pretests, all students computed five sets of math problems. The 16 students in the experimental group heard a gradually increasing sound as they worked the problems. The sound was terminated when a student reported distraction. The 16 control students worked the same math problems without the interfering sound. In a 2 X 2 X 2 ANOVA design, pre- and posttest

detection and discomfort levels of high- and low­ anxious experimental and control groups were compared. Analysis of the data did not support ·the notion that the negative reinforcement of terminating a noxious stimulus had significantly lowered the experimental group's detection of the stimulus. Since the results of this preliminary experiment were not significant, an experiment intended to test the effects of a deliberated versus an automatic decision to terminate the sound was not conducted.

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