Math Anxiety: A Factor in Math Achievement Not to Be Ignored

Math Anxiety: A Factor in Math Achievement Not to Be Ignored

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•          Math Anxiety: A Factor in Math Achievement Not to Be Ignored


•          Sian L. Beilock and Erin A. Maloney

Journal and DOI:

•          Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences 2015, Vol. 2(1) 4–12 © The Author(s) 2015 DOI: 10.1177/2372732215601438

What did we ask? Interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines in the United States has dramatically decreased. From our perspective, there are two essential questions related to this disinterest in STEM: (1) What role does math anxiety play in math success and STEM engagement? (2) How can we leverage research on math anxiety to increase interest in STEM disciplines?

How did we ask it? We reviewed math anxiety (i.e., negative feelings of tension and fear that many people experience when engaging in math) research in psychology, education, and neuroscience. Results from important studies on math anxiety were applied to formulate concrete policy recommendations to reduce math anxiety and increase interest in STEM disciplines.  

What did we find? Policymakers should focus on decreasing (math) anxiety and not just increasing interest in STEM fields. When students are anxious about math, they typically underperform and avoid math-related careers (i.e., careers in STEM). To help reduce math anxiety, we recommend some simple at-home or in-the-classroom interventions (e.f., expressive writing and problem re-framing). We also recommend that teachers and policymakers be educated on evidence-based practices known to reduce math anxiety and that these be implemented in curriculums across the nation.

Why is this important? The most vital contribution of math anxiety research to public policy is an understanding that success in mathematics requires not only knowledge of mathematical concepts but also the right mindset. If students have positive feelings towards math and low math anxiety, they are more likely to pursue careers in STEM.  

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