Test anxiety (TA) is a situation-specific form of anxiety relating to the anticipation and experience of academic evaluation. We hypothesized that, for college students, social support would buffer the effects of test anxiety experienced just prior to exams. As such, the effects of TA and social support on a physiological index of stress (cortisol) were examined in a ânaturalisticâ setting (i.e., the everyday lives of 49 students over a three-month period constituting a full academic semester). Our hypothesis was confirmed, but in an unexpected manner that indicates the complexity of the interplay between anxiety subtypes, social relationships, and stress responses: not only did social support exert a dampening effect among persons with high levels of test anxiety, but low levels of social support led to elevated cortisol in these individuals. Among participants with low test anxiety, cortisol levels were consistently moderate and unrelated to social support. Theories pertaining to anxiety and enhanced sensitivity to both damaging and protective influences are discussed.
KEYWORDS: anxiety sensitivity, cortisol, social support, test anxiety.