Reducing the sex difference in math anxiety: The role of spatial processing ability
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- Reducing the sex difference in math anxiety: The role of spatial processing ability
- Erin A. Maloney, Stephanie Waechter, Evan F. Risko, and Jonathan Fugelsang (2012)
Journal and DOI
- Journal: Learning and Individual Differences, 22, p. 380-384
- DOI: 10.1016/j.lindif.2012.01.001
- Research has shown that women experience higher rates of math anxiety than men, meaning they are more likely to feel stress or apprehension when performing tasks involving numerical and mathematical skills. As a consequence, their math performance is often negatively affected.
- Men have also been shown to have higher spatial abilities than women. Spatial abilities refer to the skills involved in mentally visualizing, rotating, and transforming spatial information.
- Researchers have often attributed the sex difference in math anxiety to factors such as social stereotype. However, there is a growing body of research linking spatial skills and mathematical skills.
What did we ask?
- We asked whether sex differences in math anxiety can be explained by sex differences in spatial processing skills.
How did we do it?
- In our first study, undergraduate students completed questionnaires that assessed their levels of math anxiety, as well as their aptitude/preference for spatial processing and configuration. We used this same methodology in our second study, but with a more diverse sample of adult participants.
What did we find?
- Our results demonstrated sex differences in spatial processing skills (where men outperformed women) and in math anxiety (where women showed higher levels of math anxiety). Importantly, spatial processing skill was shown to partially explain why women tend to be higher in math anxiety than men.
Take away Message
- These findings provide the first evidence that sex differences in math anxiety may be due, in part, to sex differences in spatial processing, and not only due to factors such as social stereotypes. This implies that interventions aimed at improving women and girls’ spatial processing abilities may also help reduce math anxiety and performance.
Brought to you by Dr. Erin Maloney’s Cognition and Emotion Lab at the University of Ottawa.