Work stress and attentional difficulties: An initial study on burnout and cognitive failures
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Number of pages
SourceWork and Stress, 19, 1, (2005), pp. 23-36
Article / Letter to editor
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SW OZ BSI AO
SW OZ BSI KLP
SW OZ DCC SMN
SW OZ NICI CO
Work and Stress
SubjectExperimental Psychopathology and Treatment; Work, Health and Performance
Professional burnout is a stress-related disorder, having mental exhaustion due to work stress as its most important characteristic. Burned out individuals also often complain about attentional problems. However, it is currently not clear whether such complaints are based on true cognitive deficits or whether they merely reflect the way burned out individuals rate their own cognitive performance. To confirm the cognitive complaints we used a cognitive failure questionnaire (CFQ) to assess the level of self-reported attentional difficulties in daily life. We also measured performance on tasks of sustained attention and response inhibition (the SART and the Bourdon-Wiersma Test). We compared three groups: (1) a group of ‘burned out’ individuals (n=13) who stopped working due to their symptoms and sought professional treatment; (2) teachers at a vocational training institute (n=16) who reported high levels of burnout symptoms but continued to work; and (3) teachers from the same institute (n=14) who reported no burnout symptoms. The level of burnout symptoms was found to be significantly related to the number of cognitive failures in daily life, and to inhibition errors and performance variability in the attentional tasks. To our knowledge, explicit tests of objective cognitive deficits in burned out individuals have not been conducted before. Consequently, this is the first study to indicate that burnout is associated with difficulties in voluntary control over attention and that the level of such difficulties varies with the severity of burnout symptoms.
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