For the past 10 years, research on the effects of observer presence on test performance has expanded in the neuropsychological literature. Previous studies have shown that the presence of a third party observer is associated with poorer performance on tests of effort, attention, concentration, learning, and memory. The present study was designed to investigate whether performance on tests of executive function is similarly impaired by the presence of a third party observer. The study also sought to examine associations among examinee anxiety, observer presence, and performance. Seventy-nine college undergraduates were recruited for the study, and 70 were included in the final analyses. Participants were randomly assigned to either the observation or control condition, and were administered verbal fluency tests, the Trail Making Test (parts A and B), and the Tactual Performance Test, as well as the Fear of Negative Evaluation scale and State-Trait Anxiety Inventory. Multivariate analyses of variance revealed that performance on the combined dependent variables was significantly associated with observer presence. A significant observation condition by trait anxiety interaction was also found. Univariate analyses revealed that performances on semantic fluency and TPT-localization were most strongly associated with observation and trait anxiety, with performance being poorer in the presence of a third party observer. Additionally, effects of trait anxiety on performance in the presence of an observer appear to vary depending on task characteristics. Implications and suggestions for further research are discussed.

Author notes

This work is based on the first author's Master's thesis. Portions of the data were presented at the 25th Annual Conference of the National Academy of Neuropsychology, Tampa, FL and updates at the 34th Annual Meeting of the International Neuropsychological Society, Boston, MA.
Cecil R. Reynolds, Ph.D. serves as the quest action editor for this manuscript.