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What are the effects of time pressure (salient vs. non-salient) and learning? Salient time pressure is basically when you have a countdown timer in front of you. Non salient time pressure would be when you have a timer going off after some preordained times (making a beep). Would the salient time pressure induce a person to do something more efficiently? Or would it be a distraction?

Sophie Leroy has shown that switching tasks incurs a cost. In particular, there is attentional residue from the previous task. Time pressure, she shows, may help with this. It provides closure to a task. But what are the effects of time pressure on learning? I guess testing is a type of time pressure activity that is one of the best ways to learn.


W Leroy, S. (2009). Why is it so hard to do my work? The challenge of attention residue when switching between work tasks. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. Vol. 109. pp 168-181.

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Just some personal observations to trigger some ideas: The effect is clearly task specific. When I "feel" I can finish the task or achieve some meaningful result in the specified time (e.g. when I do the d2-Test or get as many dollar bills as I can shovel into my pockets in 5 seconds), the time limit serves as motivator. When I "feel" I cannot achieve a useful result in the allotted time, the time limit is a stressor (e.g. when I have 5 seconds to run 100 meters, I simply won't run at all, because I know I cannot make it). – user1196 Apr 25 '13 at 13:57
@what: Basically this is the Yerkes Dodson Law. – guest43434 Apr 25 '13 at 14:18

This is a wide open question - I'm not sure that you can say there is an "effect on learning" due to time pressure. It's going to depend on a lot of factors, including the learning context, the learner, the amount of time they have to complete the task, etc. Ultimately, all learning is time-limited, so you need to break this down into different lengths of time.

There are several theories that may speak about it. One is cognitive load theory (Paas & Van Merriënboer, 1994). This theory is based on the limitations of working memory, where the "processing" of learning takes place. Basically, there is intrinsic load required to learn a certain type of material, and this is a characteristic of the material to be learned. There is also extraneous load during learning, which occurs when the learner must divert attention to tasks not directly relevant to the learning task (e.g. checking a clock, computing how much time is left, etc).

Based on CLT, one would expect a decrease in performance from having a clock sitting in front of the learner. But again, I suspect that the amount of time vs. the time required will be a strong mediating factor.


I just skimmed the article you cited. It seems like there are a lot more relevant sources there you could track down. Why don't you do that and come back with what you find?


  • Paas, F. G., & Van Merriënboer, J. J. (1994). Instructional control of cognitive load in the training of complex cognitive tasks. Educational Psychology Review,6(4), 351-371
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