Savitsky, K., Medvec, V. H., Charlton, A. E., & Glovich, T. (1998). "What, me worry?": Arousal, misattribution, and the effect of temporal distance on confidence. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 24, 529-536.

Confidence has been found to vary with temporal proximity to an upcoming task. People's confidence that they will perform well tends to diminish as the time of performance approaches. It is proposed that this phenomenon is due in part to pre-task arousal, which cues the level of confidence. Arousal that is part of preparing to perform may be misattributed to diminished confidence.

Undergraduate students (M = 14; F = 74) were formed into three groups experiencing different preparatory conditions for interpreting arousal.

Ss were informed that the investigation concerned the effects of subliminal noise on cognitive performance, specifically the ability to predict one's performance on upcoming tasks.

Anxiety and nervousness scores were significantly correlated and therefore, combined into an "arousal" score. Distant condition Ss were less aroused than either of the other two groups. Arousal increased as the task performance approached. For confidence, it was highest in the distant group and significantly more than in the proximate control group. The misattribution group also exhibited greater confidence than the proximate group.

A second study replicated these findings.

This study supported a procedure for attributing pre-task nervousness and anxiety to a neutral source as a way of increasing confidence. However, the experimental literature on that topic is equivocal. At its worst, it will not harm performance and at its best, it will facilitate pre-task confidence.

Implication. Attributing pre-task experiences of anxiety and nervousness to some entity other than the impending task (e.g., it is a valuable and necessary energizing factor), can have a positive effect on pre-task confidence and possibly eventual performance.

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