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Math Anxiety: Research

As I have written before, mathematics is becoming critical in today’s scientific and technological age. Advanced mathematics is helping with research in understanding our genes, diagnosing and preventing killer diseases, artificial intelligence, and driving many advances in computing. Math proficiency always helps with higher education, a professional career, and even something as basic as managing personal finances. I believe that more research should be done related to mathematics anxiety (MA) because if not understood and addressed, MA can be a significant barrier in learning basic and advanced mathematics. Mathematics anxiety has been defined by Dr. Richadson and Dr. Suinn as “a feeling of tension and anxiety that interferes with the manipulation of numbers and the solving of mathematical problems in … ordinary life and academic situations”

Dr. Dreger and Dr. Aiken were the first ones to publish a study on what they coined ‘number anxiety’ in 1957. The main purpose of this study was to detect presence of emotional reactions to arithmetic and mathematics among 700 college students at Florida State University. They concluded that number anxiety was separate from general anxiety, was not related to general intelligence, and impacted math grades when it was high.

Dr. Ann Dowker is a University Research Lecturer at Oxford. Dr. Dowker and others have done extensive research on individual differences in arithmetic in both children and adults, and on the phenomenon of ‘mathematics anxiety’. Dr. Dowker is also the lead researcher on the Catch Up Numeracy project, which is an individualized intervention program for primary school children with low performance achievements in math. Catch Up Numeracy project has been implemented in 45 local authorities in the UK and is being extended to Ireland and Australia. Dr. Dowker with other researchers at Oxford published the latest compilation on MA, Mathematics Anxiety: What Have We Learned in 60 Years? This report does a nice job of defining MA, and its distinction from other forms of anxiety. I really liked how the research tries to identify the possible factors such as genetics, age, gender, and culture that could influence varying levels of MA.

I came across this another research from one of the co-authors of previous study where the research team used voxel-based morphometry (VBM) to identify the structural brain correlates of MA in 79 healthy children in Spain aged 7–12 years. MA is believed to develop in later years of primary education, and the study identified that “increased MA was associated with reduced attention, working memory and math achievement.”

There are various tips and tricks to reduce MA whether you are an educator or a student.

[Image Credit: Bob Staake, The NY Times]


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