Monday, April 1, 2013

Math anxiety: Personal, educational, and cognitive consequences

Ashcraft, M. H. (2002). Math anxiety: Personal, educational, and cognitive consequences. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 11(5), 181-185. doi: 10.1111/1467-8721.00196

This article took an interesting look at math anxiety and questioned the relationship between the anxiety and competence in math. It was kind of like the question which came first, the chicken or the egg? Does a lack of math competence cause math anxiety or does math anxiety lead to a lack of competence?

One example from the study referred to people rushing through math problems as the problems became more difficult (the group was adults, and the problems went from two-digit addition to two-digit addition with regrouping). They said, “This behavior resembles the global avoidance tendency characteristic of highly math-anxious individual, but at an immediate, local level: By speeding through problems, highly anxious individuals minimized their time and involvement in the lab task, much as they probably did in math class. Such avoidance came at a price, however--a sharp increase in errors” (p. 183). This is a common occurrence in my classroom, students rushing through work and making mistakes. I always encourage the students to take their time, but if the rushing is an avoidance technique, to just "get it done," I need to address the problem with an approach other than just telling them to take their time. Perhaps I need to do some problems with them to relieve some anxiety and set the pace for the students to continue to work at.

Another quote that struck me was, “...general anxiety is hypothesized to disrupt ongoing working memory processes because anxious individuals devote attention to their intrusive thoughts and worries, rather than the task at hand. In the case of math anxiety, such thoughts probably involve preoccupation with one’s dislike or fear of math, one’s low self-confidence, and the like" (p. 183). If someone is suffering from math anxiety it interferes with their working memory, and working memory is essential to many higher level math processes like long division, borrowing, regrouping, etc. So students who are feeling anxious may perform poorly on these tasks because their working memory is focused on their anxiety and the feelings associated with this.

The last piece that caught my attention was when the author began to touch on possible causes of the anxiety (a question I considered for my research). He said, “Unfortunately, there has been no thorough empirical work on the origins or causes of math anxiety, although there are some strong hints” (p. 184). A disappointing sentence to read, but it's been a few years maybe some work has been done since the publishing of this article. One of the hints he referred to was that anxiety is often related to teacher behavior. For example, a teacher who places emphasis on correctness without attention and time spent on why questions were incorrect. Another cause he alluded to was public embarrassment in math class. This is not to say that just getting an answer wrong in class was enough to cause the anxiety, but that a teacher who reacted to the misunderstanding with annoyance would make the student feel incompetent publicly.

Overall the article has interesting information about math anxiety itself and what may be happening while someone is in the midst of it. What it left me wondering is more about the causes of the anxiety, as well as what can we do about it now?

1 comment:

mighty students essays said...

If someone is being affected by mathematical stress it inhibits their operating storage, and operating storage is essential to many advanced level mathematical procedures like long department, credit, regrouping Another cause he referred to was public discomfort in mathematical category. This is not to say that just getting an response incorrect in college was enough to cause the anxiety

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