What is Math Anxiety?

Researchers agree that Math Anxiety is a distinct and stable form of anxiety that starts as early as pre-school and develops into adulthood

Maths Anxiety (MA) is defined as “a debilitating negative emotional reaction towards mathematics”.
It is an enduring type of anxiety that represents a fairly stable characteristic of an individual. Affecting 1 in 6 students, this condition affects more primary school girls than boys even when they have similar levels of performance, thereby worsening the existing problem of gender inequality in STEM education. However, the exact reasons for that gender difference remain unclear.
MA can affect the long-term career choices of individuals, for instance, high level of Maths anxiety was found to be related to poor drug dosages by hospital nurses.

MA is distinct from other types of anxiety (state anxiety, trait anxiety, test anxiety), it is not always associated with low performance. MA is distinct from mathematical learning disorder or dyscalculia, however, there are some comorbidities between the two

Researchers strongly agree that MA should be treated as early as possible starting from primary school. Mathematics skills in primary education are essential to a child’s future career; skills in numeracy at primary level positively affect oral language and vocabulary; whilst augmenting curiosity, imagination, persistence and working memory. If MA is not dealt with, it will not only affect mathematics performance but can also have long-term effects on overall learning and poor self-esteem.

Mathematics anxiety extends to adolescence, as confirmed by cross-national data from The PISA Study. Negative outcomes of math anxiety observed in adulthood include depression, problems with police and low socioeconomic status. Consequences of low numeracy also impact negatively the economy leading to high costs for the governments and result in poor technological development. The cost of poor numeracy skills has been estimated to 230€ billion in UK only, about 1% of its GDP.

It is possible to alleviate MA, which can also lead to an increase in mathematics performance. Behavioral and cognitive-behavioral therapies have most commonly been successful.

If you want to know more about math anxiety, we suggest to have a look at this excellent paper that can be accessed here.

Cipora, K., Santos, F. H., Kucian, K., & Dowker, A. (2021, November 23). Mathematics anxiety – where are we and where shall we go?

LAST UPDATE: December 2021

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