Time pressure in translation: Psychological and physiological measures

Yu Weng, Binghan Zheng and Yanping Dong

Translators may experience significant psychological and physiological responses to time pressure. This study examines such responses with the aim of identifying valid indicators of time pressure in written translation. Forty-five postgraduates participated in the study, translating three comparable English texts into Chinese under three time conditions (Short, Standard, and Free). A positive relation between time stringency and the arousal level detected by a set of self-reporting and biomarker measures was hypothesised. The hypothesis was corroborated by results derived from participants’ self-reporting on stress and anxiety, and the biomarkers of heart rate, blood pressure, and pupil dilation, but not by skin temperature, galvanic skin response (GSR), and heart rate variability (HRV). Thus, the measures that confirm the hypothesis are considered successful indicators of time pressure in translation. In addition, an inverted ‘U-shaped’ pattern was observed in the relation between time stringency and the arousal level indexed by GSR and HRV. These findings may facilitate research and training in translation and other cognitively demanding language-processing activities.

Publication history
Table of contents

The effects of time pressure on task performance have attracted attention from various disciplines in recent decades. Existing empirical translation studies have investigated the influence of time pressure on translation product quality (Ghobadi, Madadi, and Najafian 2017), translators’ linguistic behaviours (Jensen and Jakobsen 2000; Hansen 2006; Alves and Liparini Campos 2009), and patterns of visual attention distribution (Sharmin et al. 2008). The psychological and physiological impacts of time pressure on translators, however, have rarely been investigated empirically. Time pressure as a form of stress could evoke particular psychological experiences and trigger the ‘fight-or-flight’ response, leading to various physiological effects (McCarty 2007). Investigating these psychological and physiological impacts of time pressure could facilitate the identification of valid time-pressure indicators in translation experimentation, develop our understanding of the multifaceted translation process as a whole, and contribute to better monitoring of translators’ physical and mental wellbeing.

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