Motivation and emotion/Book/2017/Evaluation apprehension

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Evaluation apprehension:
What is evaluation apprehension and how does it affect us?


You start a new job; you practice operating the cash register and run through some practice purchases with your supervisor; you get through it without any problems. Two customers approach the counter, and ones gives a "look" that makes you wonder if she's going to resent being served by a newbie. Suddenly you are fumbling about, mashing buttons, completely lost and apologising. 

Figure 1. Evaluation apprehension can make people silent during group brainstorming sessions.

You're a musician; you play at a new venue. You're a bit nervous as you take to the stage and perform. Later, you hear a recording someone took at the gig, and you believe that it sounds much better than the demo your band paid for and recorded at a studio. 

Evaluation apprehension refers to an anxiety felt by a task-performer due to feelings that they are being judged or appraised by others; this increases the task-performers arousal level, which can either enhance or impede performance (Coleman, 2015).

Currently, there is a lack of literature on evaluation apprehension and emotion. This book chapter seeks to explain what evaluation apprehension is and how it affects us by examining the hypothesis itself, how it impacts performance, and its relation to emotion.


  • Drive refers to the energy that motivates one to pursue and satisfy a need or goal (Coleman, 2015).
  • Arousal is a physiological excitation that produces an alert and responsive state (Coleman, 2015).

History of the hypothesis[edit]

That the presence of others can impact performance is a long known fact to psychology. Early research in this field was conducted by Triplett in 1898 (as cited by Geen & Gange, 1977). Triplett found that simple motor task performance was benefited by co-performing participants when compared to those who performed alone, now known as the co-actor effect (Geen & Gange, 1977). In 1924, Allport (as cited by Platania & Moran, 2001) reported that the presence of others could enhance performance on well-practised tasks but inhibit performance on novel problem solving and intellectual tasks. Other researchers built on such findings and found similar, beneficial effects when one is performing in front of an audience (the audience effect); however, there were contradictions in the results; specifically, it seemed that experiments with social components produced poorer performance outcomes (Geen & Gange, 1977). These contradictions did not receive a developed explanation until 1965 (Strauss, 2002) when Zajonc (1965) proposed his drive theory of social facilitation.

Social facilitation theory[edit]

According to Zajonc's (1965) social facilitation theory, the mere presence of others causes a task performer's arousal to increase, which in turn, increases general drive (D). General drive animates all habits, particularly it encourages the emission of dominant responses (Weiss & Miller citing Spence, 1956), which are simple or well-practised responses, and this occurs whether the dominant responses are correct or incorrect.

Evaluation apprehension[edit]

Henchy and Glass (1968) proposed an evaluation apprehension hypothesis in which it is the fear of evaluation that raises arousal and releases dominant responses, and not the mere presence of others. The research of Cottrell, Wack, Sekerak, and Rittle (1968) found that although the presence of an audience did enhance dominant responses at the cost of weaker response, the mere presence of others (via proximity) did not have a facilitative effect. Furthermore, Cottrell (et al.,1968) believed that it was a learned-drive of anticipating negative or positive outcomes from performing a task in front of an audience that increases arousal, and not the general drive Zajonc had proposed (Geen & Gange, 1977). 

Evaluation apprehension hypothesis[edit]

Evaluation apprehension occurs when a person undertakes a task and perceives a confirmation that they will be evaluated by observers/an observer (Rosenberg, 1965). This acts on a socially learned-drive to receive positive and avoid negative evaluations (Geen, 1983), which produces arousal in the task performer. The learned-drive induced arousal has an energising effect on performance that leads to animating all responses, with the most energy going to the strongest habit (H), whether or not the selected response is correct or incorrect (Weiss & Miller, 1971). Therefore, well-learned or simple tasks often emit a correct response, but learning and performance on novel or complex tasks often emit incorrect responses, because the dominant responses for these tasks, being new or challenging, are more likely to be incorrect (Geen, & Gange 1977). 


Here is a quiz question - choose the correct answer and click "Submit":

Evaluation apprehension is an alternative explanation for the social facilitation effect.


How it affects us[edit]

Evaluation apprehension influences many aspects our experiences, such as our emotions, physiology, social lives, learning, and crucially to the evaluation apprehension hypothesis, it also affects performance.


Not all evaluators have the same effect. For instance, when evaluators are perceived as a source of future help, anxiety and evaluation apprehension reduce (Green, 1991). The peer audience effect occurs when adolescent experience more inhibition under the evaluation of friends than compared to others, like researchers (Wolf, Bazargani, Kilford, Dumontheil, & Blakemore, 2015).

In sport, crowd noise can facilitate performance of home teams and have an inhibiting impact on visiting teams (Greer, 1983).


The available research does reveal that cortisol levels experience a sharp rise when one experiences an uncontrollable social threat (Dickerson & Kemeny, 2004). Especially when anticipating negative evaluations (Dickernson, Mycek, & Zaldivar, 2008). Furthermore, cardiovascular and cortisol data indicate that arousal increases as the number of possible evaluators increase, and that this has a diminishing impact on performance (Mills, Carter, Rudd, Claxton, & O'Brien, 2016).

The prefrontal cortex is vital for top-down behavioural regulation and goal-oriented behaviours, such as impulse control and attention (Arnsten, Raskind, Taylor, & Connor, 2015). There is evidence that prefrontal cortex activation contributes to the inhibitory effects of evaluation apprehension. Specifically, overactivation of the prefrontal cortex predicts more errors in tasks that require greater cognitive effort to undertake (Ito, et al., 2011). Moreover, this matches the types of tasks commonly seen to suffer the inhibitory aspect of evaluation apprehension, such as novel and or complex tasks (Geen & Gange 1977).


Here is a quiz question - choose the correct answer and click "Submit":

Evaluation apprehension increases arousal.



One aspect of evaluation apprehension that is in severe need of research is how evaluation apprehension is moderated by the uniqueness of the individual (Graydon & Murphy, 1994).


Appraisal theory states that the intensity of emotion derives from how one judges and explains the cause of an instance of arousal (Coleman, 2015). Research indicates that before and after undertaking a task in which one will be evaluated, people with high or low levels of anxiety experience differing appraisals regarding the difficulty of the task, the quality of their performance, and how threatened they feel. Those with high anxiety report more negatively tilted appraisals, and they also perform worse compared to those with low anxiety (Baggett, Saab, & Carver, 1996).  Therefore, changing appraisals may influence performance outcomes. Jamieson, Peters, Greenwood, and Altose (2016) found just that when they induced reappraisals by educating participants about the performance benefits of stress. This led to a reduction in evaluation apprehension, and improvements in performance that were not present the control group.   


Figure 2. Evaluation apprehension can facilitate or inhibit performance.

By providing positive or negative feedback on practices tasks, Seta and Seta (1995) induced participants with either low or high efficacy expectations. Participants were then divided into conditions of escalating value for their "main" performance.

Participants with low-efficacy expectations performed worse in front of an audience (high-value condition) than in any other condition. Unsurprisingly, those with high-efficacy expectations performed best when in front of the audience (high-value condition). Thus, a person's efficacy history may prime them for facilitative or inhibiting effects of evaluation apprehension.

Emotional expression [edit]

Evaluation apprehension can also impact emotional expression. The presence of a friend can facilitate emotional expression when one is viewing slides that contain emotionally loaded pictures, particularly for sexual images. However, participants' emotional expression was inhibited by the presence of a friend for unpleasant slides. The presence of a strange generally had a consistent inhibiting effect on emotional expression compared to the presence of a friend (Buck, Losow, Murphy, & Costanzo, 1992).


It may come as no surprise that those with low self-esteem are orientated toward the inhibiting aspect of evaluation apprehension (Uziel, 2016). Low self-esteem tends to develop from a person's history of rejection (Uziel, 2007), and those with low self-esteem may be especially sensitive to social threats (Schulz, Alpers, & Hofmann, 2008), including situations in which they are to be evaluated (Uziel, 2007).

Using evaluation apprehension theory, one could reason that those with low self-esteem would feel high arousal anticipating a negative evaluation, and during a performance this arousal would energise the strongest relevant habit, which, for those with low self-esteem would likely be an inhibiting response in the presence of evaluators.

However, those will high self-esteem are oriented toward the enhancing outcome of evaluation apprehension (Uziel, 2016). High self-esteem usually stems from a history of being accepted. Therefore, people with high self-esteem may approach situations in which they are being evaluated with confidence and a drive for being accepted that leads to greater effort when undertaking a task (Uziel, 2007).

Personality    [edit]

Extraverts seem to perform better with an audience. If they can use the audience as a stimulus for energy, an increase in drive can occur. As expected, introverts perform worse in the presence of an audience and may need training in psychological techniques to perform their best (Graydon & Murphy, 1995). The mere presence of others can be enough to stimulate introverts towards a facilitating effect (Grant and Dajee, 2003). This could appear to support Zajonc's (1965) claim; however, as Henchy and Glass (1968) pointed out, the mere presence of others can be enough to cause a feeling of being evaluated, and one could reason that this could be especially true in the case of introverts.   


Here is a quiz question - choose the correct answer and click "Submit":

A person's unique psychology/emotional disposition impacts their experience with evaluation apprehension.


Performance    [edit]

The presence of an audience improves the speed of simple, well-practiced tasks, but hinders performance on more complex tasks (Yu & Wu, 2015). Evidence supports an enhancing effect for evaluation apprehension in athletic performance, however, for novices, it is more likely to be inhibiting (Strauss, 2002). A study by Shelley-Tremblay (et al., 2006) found such an effect with novice golfers who experienced decreased putting accuracy when performing in front of an audience.

Evaluation apprehension can also take the form of "choking under pressure". This can have significant cognitive effects, and those with high working memory can experience even stronger inhibitory effects (Belletier et al., 2015).

Social loafing[edit]

Social loafing is the phenomena in which a member of a group undertaking an activity does not participate to the extent that other members do. As predicted by evaluation apprehension, when one believes their performance cannot be isolated from the group performance (low evaluative threat), they do not work as hard. When the evaluative potential is high, however, participants work harder, especially when they are among evaluative co-participants (Gagné & Zuckerman, 1999). Indeed, increasing evaluation concerns can promote workers to put in more effort when working in groups (Lount, Park, Kerr, Messé, & Seok, 2008).


When performing among co-actors, evaluation apprehension generally aids simple and well-learned tasks but impedes novel or complex tasks (Geen & Gange, 1977).  Even the presence of a virtual co-actor can benefit performance (Murray, Neumann, Moffitt, and Thomas 2016). However, for highly competitive people in athletic competition, virtual competitors do not produce the same response intensity that live competitors do (Snyder, Anderson-Hanley, Arciero, 2012).


Here is a quiz question - choose the correct answer and click "Submit":

Evaluation apprehension facilitates the performance of novel and difficult tasks.



Evaluation apprehension stems from learnt expectations of positive or negative outcomes from being evaluated; therefore, evaluation apprehension should contain a breadth of social implications supported by research.


Evaluation apprehension also has a moderating impact on collectivist cultures and corruption. (Huang, Liu, Zheng, Tan, & Zhao, 2015). In situations with high evaluation apprehension threat, people with a high-level of collectivism are less likely to offer bribes. However, they are more likely to offer bribes when evaluation apprehension threat is low, even compared to neutral people  Thus, evaluation apprehension may benefit combating corrupt behaviour in collectivist societies. People in high evaluation apprehension situations are also more likely to make a pro-social judgement towards others as being likeable, so they themselves appear more likeable (Christensen, 1982).  Using a prisoner's dilemma game, researchers have even found that people choose to apply more punishment to those who morally transgress against others (i.e. in third-party situations) when people are there to witness the choice to punish, and that the amount of punishment increases as witnesses to the choice to punish increases (Kurzban, DeScioli, & O'Brien, 2007).

Knowledge sharing[edit]

Evaluation apprehension also impedes knowledge sharing, both in interpersonal settings and even though collective database technology (Bordia, Irmer, & Abusah, 2006). Evaluation apprehension has been posited as one reason why students do not take advantage of help facilities (Shiomi, Kanda, Howley, Hayashi, & Hagita, 2015).

Stereotype threat[edit]

Stereotype threat is another manifestation of evaluation apprehension. Stereotype threat occurs when people who hold membership in a certain demographic are reminded about the possibility of confirming a generalisation (often but not always a negative one) about that demographic. The source of the threat can be ingroups, outgroups, and even one's self. These threats can raise concern about one's self-concept and reputation, as well as the concept and reputation of one's in-group (Shapiro & Neuberg, 2007). The threat increases arousal, which can benefit performance on easy tasks, but it can also hinder performance on difficult tasks (Ben-Zeev, Fein, & Inzlicht, 2005).

Studies have found that stereotype threat can diminish math test outcomes for women who have a high math self-concept (Keller, 2007); it can also have an inhibiting effect on motor task performance in females (Raphael, 2017); and boys can suffer academic deficits if they believe that adults think boys are not as smart as girls (Hartley & Sutton, 2013).

Stereotype threat has been linked with hypertension in African Americans, who may frequently be in conditions that produce a stereotype threat induced rise in blood pressure (Blascovich, Spencer, Quinn, & Steele, 2001). It can produce different results based purely on how a task is framed. For instance, when an athletic task is framed as a sports intelligence test, black athletes perform worse, and when it is framed as a test of natural athleticism, white athletes perform worse (Stone, Lynch, Sjomeling, & Darley, 1999).

Figure 3. When females are reminded about negative stereotypes regarding women and math, their performance can be inhibited.

For age, negative stereotypes about elderly drivers can actually inhibit braking performance in older people (Lambert et al., 2015).

And finally, stereotype lift, a facilitative effect, can occur when one witnesses an outgroup receive a threat (Raphael, 2017). 


Here is a quiz question - choose the correct answer and click "Submit":

Stereotype threat can only be induced by someone outside the threatened group.


Underlying mechanisms of the learned-drive[edit]

Evaluation apprehension stems a learned-drive, which contains awareness of possible positive and negative social outcomes (Cottrell et al., 1968). Leary, Branes, Griebel, Mason, and McCormack (1987) Identified two types of ego threat that may ignite evaluation apprehension: a fear of receiving feedback that will hurt one's self-esteem (self-esteem threats), or concern that one will present poorly to others and harm one's social-esteem (social-esteem threats). The researchers conducted a study, and the results found that anticipating negative evaluation, even without the presence of another person, produced evaluation apprehension, as did the possibility of making a poor impression on another person.

The two-factor theory of emotion can also explain evaluation apprehension, as both approaches need arousal and environmental cues to produce their effects. In the two-factor theory, when one experiences an emotion, a physiological change is produced. To interpret their experience, the person looks to the environment to provide answers (Schachter & Singer, 1962). Using this theory, evaluation apprehension can be viewed as arousal (physiological change) in response to an environment that signals one will be evaluated, and depending on the performer's skill or familiarity with the task, a facilitative or hindering impact on performance may occur. Furthermore, cognitive factors such as appraisals (Baggett et al., 1996), and personal history (Seta & Seta, 1995) seem to influence the extent that one views the evaluation signaling environment as a threat.


Evaluation apprehension is a state that facilitates or inhibits performance depending on the task, the evaluators, the performer, and their unique history and psychology. It can produce prosocial behaviour and facilitate the performance of simple or well learned task. It can also hinder the performance of novel or difficult tasks; inhibit the performance of those who feel marginalised; and prevent people with certain psychological/emotional dispositions from succeeding in evaluative situations. The learned-drive that produces evaluation apprehension may stem from ego threats and a two-factor approach regarding arousal and evaluators.

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]