The effects of mathematics anxiety on the processing of numerical magnitude

The effects of mathematics anxiety on the processing of numerical magnitude

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The effects of mathematics anxiety on the processing of numerical magnitude 


Erin A. Maloney, Daniel Ansari, and Jonathan A. Fugelsang (2011).  

Journal and DOI:

The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. DOI: 10.1080/17470218.2010.533278

Previous Research:

  • Previous research has reported that math anxiety (feelings of fear, tension, and apprehension that people experience when doing math) impacts an individual’s math performance by occupying important memory resources needed for doing math. More recent research has also found that higher-math-anxious adults perform worse than their lower-math-anxious counterparts when counting objects; therefore, we aimed to examine whether math anxiety also relates to performance on another basic numerical task.

What did we ask?

  • The aim of this study was to understand whether people who are high in math anxiety are slower or less accurate than their lower math anxious peers when it comes to deciding which of two numbers represents a larger quantity (e.g., 7 vs 2).

How did we ask it?

  • Experiment 1: Undergraduate students (lower math anxious=24, higher math anxious=24) were presented with a single number ranging from 1-4 or 6-9 on a computer; They were asked to identify whether the number presented was higher or lower than five.
  • Experiment 2: Undergraduate students (lower math anxious=22, higher math anxious=22) were presented with two numbers simultaneously ranging from 1-9 on a computer screen. They were asked to identify which of the two simultaneously presented numbers was larger.

What did we find?

  • Across both studies, higher math anxious participants performed worse on the numerical comparison tasks relative to lower math anxious participants.

Why is this important? 

  • This study provided additional evidence that math anxiety is not only related to performance on difficult math tasks, but also on simple numerical tasks. These results open the door to the possibility that math anxiety could be caused by difficulties with basic number processing, a theory that was thought not possible until recently.

Brought to you by Dr. Erin Maloney’s Cognition and Emotion Lab at the University of Ottawa.

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