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Neural Plasticity
Volume 2018, Article ID 3281040, 7 pages
Research Article

Examination Stress Results in Attentional Bias and Altered Neural Reactivity in Test-Anxious Individuals

1Research Center for Learning Science, Southeast University, Nanjing 210096, China
2School of Psychology, Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine, Nanjing 210023, China
3School of Education, Jiangsu University of Technology, Changzhou 213001, China
4Department of Psychology, School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Nanjing University, Nanjing 210023, China
5National Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China

Correspondence should be addressed to Renlai Zhou; nc.ude.ujn@uohzlr

Received 6 December 2017; Accepted 28 January 2018; Published 20 March 2018

Academic Editor: Jason H. Huang

Copyright © 2018 Xiaocong Zhang et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Examination stress occurs so frequently in the lives of students. The neural mechanisms of attentional bias induced by examination stress in test-anxious individuals remain unclear. Accordingly, we investigated the attentional bias toward test-related threatening words in selected high and low test-anxious participants under the stress of final examinations by using an event-related potential (ERP) technique. A classic dot-probe paradigm was adopted with a test-related/test-unrelated threatening word and a neutral word pair as cues. Results showed attention bias and enhanced N200 amplitude toward test-related threat in high test-anxious individuals, whereas avoidance of test-related threat and decreased N200 amplitude were shown in low test-anxious individuals. Additionally, ERP data revealed the relatively enhanced LPP amplitude in low test-anxious participants compared with that in high test-anxious participants. No attentional bias toward test-unrelated threat was found. In conclusion, examination stress resulted in attentional bias and functional perturbations of a brain circuitry that reacted rapidly to test-related threat in high test-anxious individuals.