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Driven, Distracted, or Both? A Performance-Based Ex-Gaussian Analysis of Individual Differences in Anxiety


concerning this article should be addressed to Konrad Bresin, Psychology Department, North Dakota State University (NDSU Dept. 2765), PO Box 6050, Fargo, ND 58108-6050. Email:


Abstract Since the inception of the empirical study of personality, and even before it, individual differences in anxiety and distress have been viewed as key predictors of behavioral performance. Yet such literatures have always entertained 2 perspectives, one contending that anxious individuals are “driven” and the other contending that anxious individuals are “distracted.” The present 3 studies (total N=289) sought to reconcile such discrepant views according to an ex-Gaussian parsing of reaction time performance tendencies in basic cognitive tasks. As hypothesized, a particular pattern marked by faster responding on the preponderance of trials (in terms of the ex-Gaussian μ parameter) in combination with slower responding on other trials (in terms of the ex-Gaussian τ parameter) was predictive of higher levels of anxiety. Implications for understanding neuroticism, distress, the anxiety-performance interface, and cognitive models of personality processes are discussed.

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