In primary education, teachers have an especially significant influence, transferring their own anxiety in math to their students. These beliefs do not necessarily rely on objective assessments because parents may maintain stereotypical evaluations. According to the PISA studies, the level of math anxiety on the one side and the strength of the correlation between math-anxiety, self-assessments in math abilities, and performance on the other side differ across countries.
Students in Asian countries, especially Korea, Japan, and Thailand, report low values on math self-concepts and self-efficacy and high math anxiety, whereas students in Western European countries such as Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Sweden, and Switzerland show high math self-efficacy and self-concept and low math anxiety. Asian students tend to set high goals and evaluate themselves according to strict standards. Additionally, they perceive their parents and themselves to be less satisfied with their school performance compared to non-Asian students.
But when it comes to math anxiety, the European countries show a stronger association between math anxiety and performance than Asian countries. However, in all countries, math anxiety correlates yet, to different degrees with achievement on the PISA math tasks. Studies on math anxiety in secondary and tertiary education nearly always find higher levels of math anxiety in female, than in male, students.
Women score higher on math test anxiety than men. At least in university education, the results for the content-related facets such as numerical anxiety are more ambiguous; here, studies display greater disagreement on gender differences. Some studies find gender differences for all facets of math anxiety 10 , 13 whereas, in other studies, women score higher than men on test anxiety but men score higher on numerical anxiety. Studies in secondary education confirm a gender bias in math anxiety. This holds true for all grades. Interestingly, gender differences in math anxiety were widest in countries that have comparatively low levels of math anxiety.
To prevent math anxiety at an early age, it would be important to know at which age gender differences come into being. Research on younger children, however, provides no clear picture. In a study, children between the ages of 7.
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No gender differences were found for this sample. Studies nearly exclusively use a cross-sectional design. These kinds of self-depreciatory assessments influence learning behaviors as well as math anxiety. In assessment situations, the internalized stereotype affects the perception of task difficulty and is related to increased strain and tension as well as decreased performance.
In addition to these effects, studies suggest that at least a smaller part of gender differences is due to hereditary influences. In their twin studies with comparisons of females and males, Malanchini et al 68 observed differences but sex only accounted for between 1. Studies with monozygotic and dizygotic twins suggest that math anxiety has a genetic component, too. A study with year-old 69 as well as one with to year-old twin pairs 68 showed a moderate hereditary contribution to math anxiety, with environmental influences explaining the rest of the variance. Individuals with a hereditary disposition are more likely to develop math anxiety.
However, more research is needed as the role of the genetic influence in comparison to the influence of family and school environment is still unclear. A disposition that has a high comorbidity with math anxiety is dyscalculia. When children have weaknesses in mathematical skills and experience difficulties and negative feedback, they often develop math anxiety, too. However, an analysis of treatments for this group would go beyond the scope of this article with its focus on individuals with mainly unimpaired math skills.
General anxiety proneness can be described as the habitual tendency to perceive stressful situations as threatening. General anxiety proneness describes relatively stable individual differences in general proneness to anxiety. Figure 1 suggests that math anxiety reciprocally interacts with other variables in math-related situations. The most important variables are introduced further. With regard to math, self-efficacy describes the belief of a person that, through their own action and effort, one can successfully perform in math.
Overall, self-efficacy and self-concept in math are positively related to performance and negatively to math anxiety; the PISA studies demonstrate this quite impressively for all participating countries. High performance may boost self-concept and decrease anxiety, whereas a higher self-concept and lower anxiety levels inspire motivation in learning and reduce negative learning behaviors such as procrastination. Lack of knowledge or the inability to understand mathematical concepts strongly contribute to math anxiety.
As described earlier, math anxiety is related to cognitive processing deficits in the working memory and, consequently, to poor performance and poor uptake of knowledge in task-related situations. Furthermore, math anxiety prevents long-term learning and knowledge acquisition in math: learners with math anxiety avoid math-related courses and tasks over the course of time.
In situations where processing mathematical content cannot be avoided, they show decreases in cognitive reflection on the task at hand. Motivation can be described as an individual preference and a positively experienced, situation-specific state when working on a task. Students with higher motivation in a subject invest more time and effort in learning and performance and apply more effective learning strategies. Very few studies however investigate the interaction between motivation, math anxiety, and performance. Against this background, Wang et al 76 doubt the numerous research results which assume a direct linear, negative correlation between math anxiety and performance.
Research on state anxiety and performance on complex tasks mostly assumes a curvilinear relationship according to the Yerkes—Dodson law. Here, an intermediate level of stress produces optimal performance, whereas extremely low and high levels of stress produce poor performance. It seems that intrinsic motivation changes the relationship between math anxiety and performance. In studies with children and adults, a linear, negative correlation between math anxiety and performance was found for learners with low levels of motivation and a curvilinear correlation for learners with high levels of motivation in math.
Findings on the long-term effects of anxiety and learning behaviors support this notion. Anxiety may induce the motivation to avoid failure and its negative consequences. If the consequences of failure are severe eg, dropping out of a course , and if students believe that there is a chance for success, math anxiety induces them to invest effort and time and strengthens positive effort motivation. Math anxiety, the expectation of success, and motivation interact with each other.
Math anxiety is nearly exclusively assessed using questionnaires with rating scales; this is done for all age groups. Individuals assess the level of anxiety in the respective situation on a Likert scale. Both questionnaires distinguish different facets of math anxiety according to the type of situation: test anxiety, math course anxiety, computation anxiety, anxiety to apply math in daily life, and fear of math teachers. Questionnaires for students in secondary education are often variations of the instruments for adults. An example is the MARS-E elementary form for children grades 4 onwards, which means age 10 to adolescence.
As with the version for adults, children and adolescents assess the level of anxiety they experience in their respective situations. Questionnaires for younger children need to correspond to the respective developmental level including reading skills. They then assess their emotional, cognitive, physiological reactions and behaviors in the situation on a Likert scale, which means how excited they feel in such a situation, how worried they are, how strongly their heart beats, or whether they would like to escape from the situation.
The children, furthermore, assess their overall anxiety in the situation. To our knowledge, the MAI is the only questionnaire with this kind of fine-tuned assessment of the different types of possible reactions to anxiety.
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Our literature review found only one questionnaire for even younger children aged 6—8. Furthermore, children are asked to draw pictures which are evaluated by content analysis. Altogether, questionnaires vary with regard to the age group and the facets of math anxiety they measure.
While some take a narrow approach and include only a few facets, others include a wide range of math anxiety aspects. Nearly all questionnaires with the exception of the MAI rely on a global assessment of anxiety. Questionnaires vary with regard to how precisely they focus on math anxiety.
Some measure not only math anxiety but, under the umbrella of math anxiety, they even subsume concepts that are related to math anxiety while measuring different concepts such as self-concept. Measures against math anxiety can be taken by educational institutions, teachers, parents, or the affected person. At the institutional level, curricular strategies against math anxiety may be implemented.
Various colleges already offer courses against math anxiety wherein students learn techniques to overcome barriers in learning math and handle their fear of the subject. Even if students do not use a retest, the opportunity itself eases strain. Similar advice involves the use of hands-on devices and manipulatives in learning. In exams, teachers may introduce anxiety-reducing measures such as using humorous examination tasks, or dividing the learning contents into several smaller examinations instead of one extensive examination.
Learners can protect themselves against the development of math anxiety by different means. Learners should focus more on past successes than failures, and believe in their abilities instead of doubting them. However, our research review on interventions to math anxiety showed a limited range of studies. Studies on the topic need a more systematic approach.
Presently, studies focus on different outcomes of math anxiety, on different age groups; they mostly investigate various smaller interventions over a short time period. For the advancement of interventions on math anxiety, a clinimetric framework with a joint understanding and description of the phenomenon itself, of rating scales, and indexes for measurement of math anxiety as well as for success of interventions would be helpful. In both research and practice, it has been acknowledged on an international level that math anxiety poses a severe problem over entire life spans.
The effects of math anxiety on performance have been widely investigated, and its negative impact has been acknowledged. Issues, however, still remain with regard to math anxiety that need further investigation. One concerns the temporal development of math anxiety and methodologically the need for long-term investigations. There is still a lack of research on the question of how math anxiety develops in childhood and how it becomes established over time. More knowledge on this question could help prevent math anxiety at an early age.
Another issue concerns the relationship between math anxiety and moderating variables. As could be shown for intrinsic motivation, moderating variables may change the relationship between math anxiety and performance; when learners experienced intrinsic motivation, moderate levels of math anxiety had a positive influence on performance. Here, methodological and statistical approaches are needed that take into consideration the reciprocal interaction of an ensemble of variables. Lastly, as it was pointed out in the last section, research on math anxiety would very much profit from a more standardized clinimetric approach and joint agreements of researchers and practitioners on how to define and measure math anxiety.
As shown, there are numerous possibilities for the support of math-anxious individuals and reducing math anxiety. More knowledge on the development of math anxiety and its interaction with other variables will be important in supporting math-anxious individuals. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Psychol Res Behav Manag. Published online Aug 8. Author information Copyright and License information Disclaimer. This work is published and licensed by Dove Medical Press Limited.
By accessing the work you hereby accept the Terms. Non-commercial uses of the work are permitted without any further permission from Dove Medical Press Limited, provided the work is properly attributed. Abstract Anxiety disorders are some of the most widespread mental health issues worldwide. Keywords: math anxiety, performance in mathematics, diagnosis of math anxiety, measures against math anxiety. Aims This overview on math anxiety pursues the following aims: To describe the phenomenon of math anxiety, including information on its prevalence and on how it differs from other forms of anxiety.
To introduce instruments for the measurement of math anxiety in different age groups. To describe possible means to prevent or reduce math anxiety. Introduction Anxiety disorders are some of the most widespread mental health-care problems worldwide.
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It distinguishes between different types of variables: Educational outcome variables such as performance, learning behaviors, or choices are influenced by math anxiety. Outcomes of math anxiety According to Figure 1 , math anxiety influences various outcome variables, the most important of which are introduced here. Open in a separate window. Figure 1. Math anxiety and performance Studies on performance mainly focus on students in secondary education and university students. Math anxiety, performance, and effects on working memory According to the Attentional Control Theory, efficient cognitive processing depends on two attentional systems: a top—down, goal-driven system that is influenced by current goals and expectations, and a stimulus-driven system that is influenced by the salient stimuli of the environment.
Math anxiety and learning behaviors, especially procrastination Math anxiety not only has direct effects on task performance, but influences long-term learning as well. Math anxiety and academic and vocational choices Math-anxious students take fewer math courses and avoid elective math coursework as early as secondary school. Antecedents of math anxiety Antecedents of math anxiety can be divided into personal and environmental characteristics. Significant people like teachers or parents Teachers, parents, and other important adults serve as role models and influence children with their own attitudes toward math.
Culture and educational systems According to the PISA studies, the level of math anxiety on the one side and the strength of the correlation between math-anxiety, self-assessments in math abilities, and performance on the other side differ across countries. Gender and stereotypes Studies on math anxiety in secondary and tertiary education nearly always find higher levels of math anxiety in female, than in male, students.
Genetic dispositions Studies with monozygotic and dizygotic twins suggest that math anxiety has a genetic component, too. General anxiety proneness General anxiety proneness can be described as the habitual tendency to perceive stressful situations as threatening. Variables in reciprocal interaction with math anxiety Figure 1 suggests that math anxiety reciprocally interacts with other variables in math-related situations.
Self-efficacy and self-concept With regard to math, self-efficacy describes the belief of a person that, through their own action and effort, one can successfully perform in math. Prior knowledge Lack of knowledge or the inability to understand mathematical concepts strongly contribute to math anxiety.
Motivation Motivation can be described as an individual preference and a positively experienced, situation-specific state when working on a task. Conclusion In both research and practice, it has been acknowledged on an international level that math anxiety poses a severe problem over entire life spans. Footnotes Disclosure The authors report no conflicts of interest in this work.
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