Statistics Anxiety and Mathematics Anxiety: Some Interesting Differences I

Article excerpt

Abstract

Statistics anxiety is hypothesized to be a closely related but a distinct construct from mathematics anxiety. However, many incorrectly conceive that statistics anxiety is the same construct as mathematics anxiety. Confusing statistics anxiety and mathematics anxiety is common among students as well as researchers. Frequent appearance of statistics courses within mathematics departments and statistically significant relationships between mathematics anxiety and statistics anxiety are two main reasons for this confusion. The present paper discusses current literature and points out similarities as well as differences between statistics anxiety and mathematics anxiety. The need for future correlational and factor analytic studies that empirically examine the relationship between the measures of statistics anxiety and mathematics anxiety is noted.

Introduction

Statistics should be an integral part of all citizens' education. However, student difficulties with current statistics courses are noted in the literature. The majority of college students experience high levels of statistics anxiety (Birenbaum & Eylath, 1994; Gal & Ginsburg, 1994; Onwuegbuzie, in press, 1997a, 1997b; Perney & Ravid, 1990; Schau, Stevens, Dauphinee, & Del Vecchio, 1995). Many students regard statistics as the most difficult and least pleasant course (Berk & Nanda, 1998); complain about its mathematical nature; and the lack of appropriate skills (Johnson, 1999).

It has been hypothesized that most student difficulties in statistics may not be a result of insufficient intellectual ability or aptitude; rather, they may be reflections of attitudinal factors such as misconceptions (Barkley, 1995), negative attitudes (Wise, 1985), and anxiety (Gal & Ginsburg, 1994). Hence, statistics anxiety was defined as another type of situation-specific anxiety. Cruise, Cash, and Bolton (1985) observed that students who had difficulties in statistics exhibited characteristics different from students who had difficulties in mathematics. Thus, they asserted that statistics anxiety should be defined as a separate construct. They defined it as "feelings of anxiety encountered when taking a statistics course or doing statistical analyses; that is, gathering, processing, and interpret[ing]" (P. 92).

Statistics anxiety is a relatively newer construct and has not been investigated fully. Many, students and researchers alike, incorrectly conceive that statistics anxiety is the same construct as mathematics anxiety (e.g., Demaria-Mitton, 1987; Murdock, 1982; Yeger & Wilson, 1986). For example, Demaria-Mitton (1987) used a mathematics anxiety scale to measure statistics anxiety because she believed that statistics anxiety and mathematics anxiety were identical. She alleged that "... since statistics, like mathematics, is a number and symbol system requiring thinking on an abstract level..." she could conclude the two to be identical (1987, p. 20). Her reason for equating mathematics anxiety and statistics anxiety also came from Murdock (1982), who claimed that mathematics anxiety was the primary "cause" of statistics anxiety. However, Murdock (1982) did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship in his study and therefore causal conclusions were not possible from his study. Such claims that statistics anxiety and mathematics anxiety are the same constructs were later rejected (e.g., Birenbaum & Eylath, 1994) and differences between statistics anxiety and mathematics anxiety were detected (e.g., Onwuegbuzie, 1993).

Differences Between Statistics Anxiety and Mathematics Anxiety

Even though statistics anxiety and mathematics anxiety are related, statistics anxiety is hypothesized to be a distinct construct from mathematics anxiety (Baloglu, 2001, Benson, 1989; Benson & Bandalos, 1989; Birenbaum & Eylath, 1994; Cruise et al, 1985; Onwuegbuzie, 1993, 1999a; Zeidner, 1991). Nonetheless, the nature of statistics anxiety and its relationships with other related constructs have not been fully investigated. …