A better state-of-mind: deep breathing reduces state anxiety and enhances test performance through regulating test cognitions in children

Cogn Emot. 2017 Nov;31(7):1502-1510. doi: 10.1080/02699931.2016.1233095. Epub 2016 Sep 26.


A pre-test/post-test, intervention-versus-control experimental design was used to examine the effects, mechanisms and moderators of deep breathing on state anxiety and test performance in 122 Primary 5 students. Taking deep breaths before a timed math test significantly reduced self-reported feelings of anxiety and improved test performance. There was a statistical trend towards greater effectiveness in reducing state anxiety for boys compared to girls, and in enhancing test performance for students with higher autonomic reactivity in test-like situations. The latter moderation was significant when comparing high-versus-low autonomic reactivity groups. Mediation analyses suggest that deep breathing reduces state anxiety in test-like situations, creating a better state-of-mind by enhancing the regulation of adaptive-maladaptive thoughts during the test, allowing for better performance. The quick and simple technique can be easily learnt and effectively applied by most children to immediately alleviate some of the adverse effects of test anxiety on psychological well-being and academic performance.

Keywords: Test anxiety; deep breathing; intervention; self-regulation; state anxiety.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Affect / physiology
  • Breathing Exercises / methods*
  • Child
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Performance Anxiety / physiopathology
  • Performance Anxiety / psychology
  • Performance Anxiety / therapy*