Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Heather Kleider-Offutt

Second Advisor

David Washburn

Third Advisor

Chris Conway


Scores from high-stakes tests such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) are commonly used as criteria for college admission decisions. So, it is of implied importance to identify factors that contribute to susceptibility to failure on these tests. One potential factor addressed in the current study was whether emotional cognitive load differentially impacts those with low working memory capacity or trait anxiety. Individual differences in subjective arousal were also tested as a mechanism contributing to this effect. In Experiment 1, a reading comprehension task revealed that type of cognitive load affected accuracy. In Experiment 2, state anxiety was induced using methods from previous research. The results revealed that, again, only type of cognitive load affected comprehension accuracy. Together, results suggest that arousal induced via disturbing words negatively influence reading performance regardless of superior working memory capacity. These findings are not based on cognitive load in general, but the semantic value of the words processed, in particular, that led to comprehension difficulty. Results are discussed in terms of theoretical and practical implications.