Math Anxiety: Past Research, Promising Interventions, and a New Interpretation Framework

Math Anxiety: Past Research, Promising Interventions, and a New Interpretation Framework

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Math Anxiety: Past Research, Promising Interventions, and a New Interpretation Framework 


Ramirez, G., Shaw, S.T., Maloney, E.A. (2018)  

Journal and DOI  

EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGIST, 53(3), 145–164, 2018 

DOI: 10.1080/00461520.2018.1447384 

Previous Research   

Math anxiety negatively impacts math performance. A multitude of factors can contribute to the development of math anxiety. For example, math anxiety can be caused by poor math skills, genetic disposition, and socio-environmental factors. 

What did we ask?  

1. How does math anxiety affect math performance? 

2. How can we alleviate math anxiety? 

3. How can individual interpretations of math-related events impact the development of math anxiety 

How did we do it?  

We reviewed and analyzed current research in the field of math anxiety and identified any gaps in the literature. 

What did we find?  

There are two main accounts of how math anxiety impacts math performance:  

The disruption account: Math anxiety induces negative thoughts which reduce mental “capacity” for performing math calculations. 

The reduced competency account: Math anxious individuals avoid math, which leads to reduced math ability. This reduction in math ability then affects math performance and worsens math anxiety. 

We found three main research-based interventions for math anxiety:  

Math skill and exposure interventions: Improve students’ math competency and increase their engagement with math (e.g., math games). 

Interpretation of physiological arousal: Viewing the physical reactions (e.g., increased adrenaline) that come from math as beneficial rather than detrimental to performance.  

Narrative and mind-set interventions: Reframing failure as a means to improve performance (e.g., understanding failure does not equate to a lack of math ability). 

Interpretation Account: One way that math anxiety can develop is through a negative interpretation of math experiences and outcomes. 

Take away Message  

Rather than the outcomes themselves, how we interpret those outcomes is what predominantly leads to experiencing math anxiety. That is, everyone could experience the same situation (e.g., failing a math test), but not everyone will necessarily develop math anxiety because each individual will interpret the situation differently. 

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

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