Wellesley College, Rhulman Conference

Math Anxiety and Performance; Reversing the Trend

Assuaging Math Anxiety Original Research

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Investigations have shown that when faced with mathematical complexity, math anxious students demonstrate decreases in computational accuracy that are far more pronounced than those of their non-math anxious peers (Kellogg, Hopko, & Ashcraft, 1999); thus anxiety prevents math anxious students from preforming consummate with their ability level (see figure A). While math-anxious students struggle with single-digit operands more so than their less math anxious peers, these anxiety effects are substantially aggravated and magnified when numerical complexity increases (Ashcraft & Faust, 1994), as math anxiety interferes with cognitive processing via the reduction of working memory capacity while computations are being preformed (Ashcraft & Kirk, 2001). These findings highlight the impact of math anxious students’ temporary working memory deficits on demonstrated speed and accuracy in numerical manipulations (Ashcraft & Faust, 1994).

In my own empirical study, I observed that math anxious students were not adversely affected when rote memorization was deemphasized, and the focus shifted towards building a conceptual understanding. Under these conditions, math anxious students performed consonant with non anxious peers (figure B).

The findings suggest that math anxious individuals benefit from the presentation of progressively complex models where the conceptual framework is understood prior to increasing task complexity.

Read the entire Wellesley College Digital Archive article here