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A. Mark Williams, Joan Vickers and Sergio Rodrigues

Processing efficiency theory predicts that anxiety reduces the processing capacity of working memory and has detrimental effects on performance. When tasks place little demand on working memory, the negative effects of anxiety can be avoided by increasing effort. Although performance efficiency decreases, there is no change in performance effectiveness. When tasks impose a heavy demand on working memory, however, anxiety leads to decrements in efficiency and effectiveness. These presumptions were tested using a modified table tennis task that placed low (LWM) and high (HWM) demands on working memory. Cognitive anxiety was manipulated through a competitive ranking structure and prize money. Participants’ accuracy in hitting concentric circle targets in predetermined sequences was taken as a measure of performance effectiveness, while probe reaction time (PRT), perceived mental effort (RSME), visual search data, and arm kinematics were recorded as measures of efficiency. Anxiety had a negative effect on performance effectiveness in both LWM and HWM tasks. There was an increase in frequency of gaze and in PRT and RSME values in both tasks under high vs. low anxiety conditions, implying decrements in performance efficiency. However, participants spent more time tracking the ball in the HWM task and employed a shorter tau margin when anxious. Although anxiety impaired performance effectiveness and efficiency, decrements in efficiency were more pronounced in the HWM task than in the LWM task, providing support for processing efficiency theory.