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Physiological, Cognitive and Psychosocial Effects of Emotional Refocusing: A Summative and Formative Analysis

Alane K. Daugherty

Ph.D. Dissertation, Graduate Faculty of Education, Claremont Graduate University, 2006.

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to explore whether new emotional re-focusing tools can be used to reduce student anxiety and improve academic achievement. This dissertation utilized secondary data from the federally funded TestEdge National Demonstration Study (TENDS). Its purpose was to examine the effectiveness of the physiologically based emotional re-focusing tools presented in the TestEdge curriculum. This effectiveness was determined by measuring improvements on California Standardized Test (CST) performance, physiological coherence under stressful conditions as determined by the degree of sine wave like patterning in Heart Rate Variability, cognitive (Stroop) task performance, and the psychosocial variables of perceived test anxiety, reactions to stress, negative affect and interpersonal relationships.

Analysis of covariance was applied to assess pre- and post differences in 10th grade students from both an intervention school and a control school. Additionally, the amount of practice reported by the intervention subjects was incorporated in the analysis.

A secondary purpose of this study was to examine the effectiveness of implementation of the TestEdge curriculum and the emotional re-focusing tools as perceived by designated TENDS observers utilizing an observational protocol developed for the study, and by responses on TENDS teacher interviews.

Results indicated there were considerable problems with curriculum implementation and teacher support. However, even with limited implementation, significant improvements were found in perceived test anxiety and negative affect in the intervention school. Students who reported routine engagement with the tools scored higher on the CST English and Language Arts test and reported more improvement in interpersonal relationships. For students who reported 'daily' or 'almost daily' practice there were significant improvements in electrophysiologically measured heart coherence and positive affect. One of the most convincing findings of the study was the difference in heart coherence under stressful conditions between the intervention school subjects, who were led through the tools, and control school subjects who merely were instructed to self-relax. These results indicate that when implemented correctly, the HeartMath tools achieve physiological coherence.

Given the apparent success of the tools when applied correctly, and the problems with the current implementation, it appears a new paradigm of curriculum implementation is warranted.