Fordham Student Conducts Experiment on Working Memory and Time Constraints in Relation to Anxiety


Eunice Jung, a senior at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus, has a strong interest in studying memory, cognition, and disability. She currently serves as a research assistant in Dr. Karen Siedlecki’s Memory and Aging lab and as an intern at a memory disorder clinic at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. This year, Jung is pursuing this passion through her psychology honors thesis, which is a study on working memory in college-aged students.

The title of Jung’s study is “Examining Factors that Influence Working Memory in College-Aged Students,” and its purpose is to determine whether the awareness of time during performance of memory tasks increases or decreases working memory capacity. The data collected will also be used to help determine the correlation between measured working memory performance and anxiety levels.

Working memory is the part of the brain’s short-term memory that is used for conscious cognitive processing in tasks, including learning and reasoning. Many tests have been developed to measure working memory’s level of function, and the three tests Jung chose for the participants to complete are some of the most well-known in the field of psychology: the Stroop Task, the N-Back Task, and the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task. Jung hypothesized that working memory performance, as measured through these tests, would be lower in timed conditions than in untimed conditions due to  the effects of time-related stress on participants.

To test her hypothesis, Jung developed three conditions to test participants in an experiment: under no time constraints, with knowledge that they were being timed, and with a physical timer in front of them. The first condition, a test with no time constraints, served as the control group and the results were compared to those of the second and third conditions. The participants, mainly Fordham students, performed the memory tasks and Jung recorded their results. They were also asked to fill out two surveys: one beforehand about anxiety, stress, and depression, and one afterwards about their feelings during the memory tasks. Of her experiment, Jung said “I wanted this to be not only a quantitative assessment, but also a qualitative analysis, taking participants’ experience into consideration.” 

Analyses of the data that Jung collected has just begun. So far, she has seen mixed results when comparing participants’ performance between conditions. It seems that some participants perform worse under timed conditions while others perform better knowing they were being timed. However, an interesting trend has emerged: no matter what condition participants were in, the more stress they felt, the more their performances were negatively impacted. In light of these findings, Jung is now considering how anxiety and time conditions work together to create these results. This could bring to light new ways of examining how college students learn, study, and perform on exams. It could help predict whether students will work better closer to or further from deadlines, or if it depends on the individual. This could also help students with anxiety  find better coping mechanisms and aid teachers in understanding how to better serve and assist these students.

Jung plans on continuing her work with psychology and disability studies after she completes her thesis and graduates this year. She hopes to work in the medical field, studying how disability plays a role in medicine and improving the quality of service for those with disabilities. She is very passionate about the need for empathy in the field of science. Jung believes that “you can’t know the science without knowing the people.” Human connection is especially emphasized in Jung’s senior thesis, and this is one of the reasons why her research is so important.

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