Abstract The impact of individual differences in state anxiety, arousal and learning self-efficacy on performance in an associative learning task was examined. Older people reported higher levels of arousal but lower levels of self-efficacy than younger ones, and no age-different was present in anxiety. Arousal level was negatively related and self-efficacy positively related to learning performance, while anxiety exerted no significant impact. Age differences in learning performance were attenuated following control for arousal and some of this attenuation remained after prior control for age-related differences in perceptual speed. It was concluded that the greater arousal of older participants impaired their performance independently of differences in perceptual speed.