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Mathematical anxiety is the fear of mathematics.

Performance anxiety

People's fear of math can be related to test taking and performance anxiety. Some scholars have suggested a strong relation between math anxiety and math performance.[1]. Current research in math anxiety concerns working memory. [2]

Anxiety rating scale

A rating scale for mathematics anxiety was written about in 1972 by Richardson and Suinn,[3] who according to a recent experimental paper in mathematics anxiety,[4] described mathematical anxiety as, "... characterized by feelings of apprehension and tension concerning manipulation of numbers and completion of mathematical problems in various contexts."[5]

Mathematics and women

Related to this is gender and mathematics as younger female scholars are thought to develop anxiety towards mathematics and sciences when they become more interested in social relations in their teen years. It is thought that women experience more anxiety in mathematics as a group than men and this has also been suggested in regards computer programming. See for instance [Copper, Joel, & Weaver D, Kimberlee. Gender and Computers: "Understanding the Digital Divide"] who explore computing and gender and especially have done experiments relating gender and anxiety.[6]

Common beliefs

Many people believe that only a few "gifted" individuals have "what it takes" to learn math, and that other people will fail if they dare approach any mathematical topic more advanced than telling time or making change.

Another widely-held belief (which may have some basis in fact) which contributes to math anxiety is the idea that "math is a young man's game." At the highest levels of Research mathematics, there are still more chairmanships and named professorships held by men, and probably (cite?) more papers published by men in the most prestigious journals. Women mathematicians in the United States have almost always been a minority according to Margaret Murray. Although the exact difference fluctuates with the times as she has explored in her book [Women Becoming Mathematicians: Creating a Professional Identity in Post-World War II America]. [7] "Since 1980, women have earned over 17 percent of the mathematics doctorates.... [In The United States]".[8]The trends in gender are by no means clear, but perhaps parity is still a way to go. Thus parity will take more work to overcome mathematical anxiety and this is one reason for women in mathematics being role models for younger women.

Assessment of mathematics anxiety

Treatment of mathematics anxiety

Understanding math anxiety is important for teachers of mathematics, and forms a topic of research in math education and pedagogy (need references to books, papers, conferences). Certain areas are particularly scary since students hear rumors that they are especially difficult. These include fractions, long division, algebra, geometry "with Mathematical proof", calculus, topology, differential geometry, category theory, etc.. Taking fears into account can help the teacher approach the subject with the attitude that students can learn these subjects and be sensitive to students who fail due to a lack of confidence. Teachers may also want to take extra care to teach these subjects well and to encourage questions. On the other hand (and there is much debate on this subject, with informed opinions ranging from the idea that anyone can learn any area of mathematics if it is taught well enough or if student practice enough, to the other extreme belief that most of mathematics beyond elementary computation is too difficult for most people), some students do seem to take to mathematics eagerly and painlessly, while others (at all levels of instruction) find learning math to be difficult and unpleasant.

Math (and Statistics) Therapy is a combination of coaching and counseling, provided for adults by people with credentials in both counseling and math education. In Math Therapy the reasons for anxiety are addressed, as well as the fundamental aspects of mathematics which are lacking. New coping skills are introduced and practiced, so that fear, distaste or other negative emotions do not block math (or statistics) learning.

Anxiety as normal in mathematics

There are also those teachers, who know that anxiety exists and is not unnatural and can motivate students to work harder to a level of perfection that will be rewarded with great marks. Comparing music to mathematics, as a similar subject with its own secret language, meaning notation for writing the substantive work in the field, does not end with notation. Mathematics is also a perfectionist subject and some anxiety is normal in this work.

See also


  1. Cates, G.L. & Rhymer, K.N. (2003). Examining the Relationship Between Mathematics Anxiety and Mathematics Performance: An Instructional Hierarchy Perspective, Journal of Behavioral Education, 12, 23-34
  2. Ashcraft, M.H. & Kirk, E.P. (2001). The Relationships Among Working Memory, Math Anxiety, and Performance, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 130, 224-237. Full text
  3. Richardson, F.C. & Suinn R.M. (1972). The Mathematics Anxiety Rating Scale, Journal of Counseling Psychology, 19, 551-554
  4. Hopko, D.R., McNeil, D.W., Lejuez, C.W., Ashcraft, M.H., Eifert, G.H., & Riel, J. (2003). The effects of anxious responding on mental arithmetic and lexical decision task performance. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 17, 647-665.
  5. {supra}
  6. Copper, Joel, & Weaver D, Kimberlee. Gender and Computers: Understanding the Digital Divide (Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erbaum, 2003).
  7. Murray M. A. M., Women Becoming Mathematicians: Creating a Professional Identity in Post-World War II America (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2000)
  8. [supra at x]

External links

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