According to a study conducted by the University of Waterloo, those who experience performance anxiety prior to presenting in front of an audience are likely to experience a decline in their ability to recall information received right before their performance. This is a side-effect of what is known as the “next-in-line effect.” The “next-in-line effect” occurs when a person fails to successfully encode the information received just before a performance into their long-term memory because one’s attention is focused on their own anxiety. Understandably, this phenomenon expresses itself more strongly and more commonly in individuals who are socially anxious since they are prone to greater levels of anxiety at the prospect of public speaking.
The study was conducted by testing a complementary phenomenon known as the “production effect.” According to this concept, words spoken aloud (‘produced’) are more likely to be remembered as opposed to words read silently. This is due to a consequence known as distinctive processing—words read aloud that stand out as cognitive processes are involved in encoding auditory information. This was tested alongside the next-in-line effect in a series of four experiments.
In the first experiment, students from the university were divided into two groups. The first group was assigned to the mixed-list condition and shown a series of 80 words against a black background, with half in blue font and half in white font. The participants were instructed to read the words in white font silently and the words in blue font aloud. The words in blue were randomly spread out among the ones in white, so that participants were unaware of when they would encounter a word meant to be read aloud, thus remaining constantly alert. This method created a continuous feeling of performance anticipation throughout the experiment.
In contrast, the second group was assigned to the pure-list condition. The test was conducted the same way, except that half of the participants read all 80 words aloud and half the group read them silently. A research assistant acting as their audience was available for all groups, providing the simulated performance atmosphere that was hypothesized to lead to performance anticipation. At the end of the slides, participants were shown 160 words, 80 of which were on the slides they read (both aloud and silently), and 80 of which were distractors (words that weren’t among the words shown). Memory was tested based on how many correctly identified words were marked.
The results of the first experiment proved the production effect: those in the pure-aloud condition had the best memory test results, followed by those in the pure-silent. However, participants in the mixed-list condition exhibited significantly poorer results for the silent words as opposed to the words they read aloud.
The remaining three experiments were based on the same set-up with some differences. For the second one, the blue and white words were not randomly shown but rather in blocks of five blue and then five white. It was hypothesized that the last silent word prior to the aloud block would have the poorest recognition rate in the memory tests because of the next-in-line-effect. All participants were tested under the same conditions and the results supported the hypothesis.
For experiment three, once again the words were randomized, but this time the order in which blue and white words were shown was indicated to the participants before each word was shown on screen. This variation was crucial in comparing with the baseline results in experiment one, since this time the participants knew when the blue words would appear, despite the randomization in the first experiment. The continuous performance anticipation was eliminated and was hypothesized to only appear in the specific silent word before an aloud word, and not the rest of the silent words in the set. This proved true, supporting the next-in-line effect once again.
Experiment four was a replica of the third experiment, with one notable difference: there was no research assistant present. This eliminated the performance aspect of reading aloud words, the results of which are reflected by the lack of self-consciousness—there was no significance in the recall-recognition ability between silent and aloud words.
In conclusion, the next-in-line effect on information recall prior to performance holds across multiple experiments as shown in this study, as well as the production effect in experiment one in particular.