Mathematics anxiety affects counting but not subitizing during visual enumeration

Mathematics anxiety affects counting but not subitizing during visual enumeration

Click the buttons to download the infographic and transcript!


  • Mathematics anxiety affects counting but not subitizing during visual enumeration


  • Erin A. Maloney, Evan F. Risko, Daniel Ansari, and Jonathan Fugelsang (2010) 

Journal and DOI 

  • Journal: Cognition, 114 (2), p. 293-297 
  • DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2009.09.013 

Previous Research 

  • Research has shown that people high in math anxiety – that is, people who experience fear or apprehension regarding math – tend to perform worse on difficult math problems than their peers who are low in math anxiety.
  • Studies have also found that math anxiety is not strongly linked to performance on simple math problems, such as addition or multiplication.
  • Researchers have proposed that this distinction may be because the working memory resources that would be devoted to complex arithmetic calculations are preoccupied by math anxiety.

What did we ask? 

  • Do high math anxious adults also perform worse on measures of basic number processing?

How did we do it? 

  • Participants completed a visual enumeration task, where they were asked to identify the number of rectangular boxes that were presented to them on a computer screen. In this task, if participants are shown 1-4 objects, they will typically engage in a quick and accurate process called ‘subitizing’, where counting is not necessary to determine how many objects are on the screen. Conversely, if participants are shown 5+ objects, then they will have to count to determine the answer.

What did we find? 

  • Compared to participants who were low in math anxiety, participants who were high in math anxiety were slower and less accurate during the counting section (i.e., when there were 5-10 rectangles present). Both the high math anxious and low math anxious participants were equally quick and accurate when enumerating rectangles in the 1-4 range.

Take away Message 

  • The results of this study suggest that math anxiety is related to basic numerical processing, and not only to complex mathematical processing, as previously thought.

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: