Math Anxiety

Math anxiety is the term used to describe the feeling of apprehension when people are afraid of failing in situations that involve mathematics. It is an emotional problem, which relates to intense nervousness before or during math tests.

A pioneer in this field is Sheila Tobias, author of Overcoming Math Anxiety (1978), who describes the concept as "the panic, helplessness, paralysis and mental disorganization that arises among some people when they are required to solve a mathematical problem." Tobias strongly believed that mathematics avoidance was not a failure of intellect but a failure of nerve. The concept of math anxiety is mostly associated with the field of academics, although it can arise in other aspects of life.

The most general reason for math anxiety is a previous moment of failure including mathematics. After such an experience, people have difficulties to believe in their own abilities and are unable to reveal their full potential. The risk of public embarrassment is another factor that can contribute to math anxiety. For instance, students may cope very well with the math tasks at home, but during a major test, or in the presence of other people, they are likely to forget all mathematic formulae and rules.

The method of teaching in schools is also essential and could affect the capability of students to study mathematics. In most cases, math tests at school have to be done for a definite period of time. Thus, students, who generally feel uneasy to perform such tests, may be hampered to do their best. If a student fails because of anxiety, that can feed the problem. It can be argued that such anxiety goes far beyond the classroom, as it can deter people from applying for a job that requires performing math tasks. This fear could result in unpaid bills and taxes or even unforeseen debts.

There are several symptoms that characterize math anxiety. The most common are panic, paranoia, passive behavior and lack of confidence. Panic is expressed by a feeling of helplessness. People with math anxiety believe that they are the only ones who are incapable of coping with the math tests. Often they are not willing to do tasks related to mathematics. The lack of confidence usually means they rely on others to help them with math tasks.

Professor Freedman, who taught high school mathematics in Philadelphia, suggests a number of ways to reduce math anxiety. First, people should work on overcoming what is described as ‘negative self-talk.' When there is something unclear, asking questions would be a good course of action.

According to Prof Freedman, people suffering math anxiety should consider math as a foreign language that must be practiced all the time. Another appropriate technique is not to rely on memorization when it comes to mathematics. To solve the math problems, people should read the text carefully. Prof Freedman says it is important to stick to your own learning style. People should not be afraid to seek help and should realize they are responsible for their own success or failure. To avoid math anxiety, it is also absolutely crucial to be relaxed and comfortable while studying the subject.

There are many ways to fight math anxiety and scientists are always coming up with new techniques. One of the most successful methods is to encourage both the use of intelligence and skills, instead of giving negative criticism. Theorists in this field believe it is good for children to be surrounded by accomplished and optimistic students and adults, who act as good role models.

One theory suggests that a person's ability to solve math problems depends on their gender. Males are seen as the best ‘mathematics doers,' as they are generally believed to be more logical thinkers. If a female student excels at this subject, that can sometimes be seen as unnatural.

According to research, the number of women suffering math anxiety is higher than the rate of men who suffer from this problem. In general, mathematics is considered to be challenging by many people. However, since numbers are everywhere, in every aspect of society, it is important to handle at least simple math problems in order to succeed.

Math Anxiety: Selected full-text books and articles

Math Anxiety: Overcoming a Major Obstacle to the Improvement of Student Math Performance. (Review of Research) By Furner, Joseph M.; Berman, Barbara T Childhood Education, Vol. 79, No. 3, Spring 2003
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Handbook of Motivation at School By Kathryn R. Wentzel; David B. Miele Routledge, 2016 (2nd edition)
Math Curse or Math Anxiety? By Stuart, Vanessa B Teaching Children Mathematics, Vol. 6, No. 5, January 2000
Math Performance and Its Relationship to Math Anxiety and Metacognition By Legg, Angela M.; Locker, Lawrence, Jr North American Journal of Psychology, Vol. 11, No. 3, December 2009
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Tracing the Roots of Mathematics Anxiety through In-Depth Interviews with Preservice Elementary Teachers By Trujillo, Karen M.; Hadfield, Oakley D College Student Journal, Vol. 33, No. 2, June 1999
Math Anxiety in Pre-Service Elementary School Teachers By Malinsky, Marci; Ross, Ann; Pannells, Tammy; McJunkin, Mark Education, Vol. 127, No. 2, Winter 2006
Women and Mathematics: Balancing the Equation By Susan F. Chipman; Lorelei R. Brush; Donna M. Wilson Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1985
Librarian's tip: "Confidence in Math Ability and Math Anxiety" begins on p. 299
Decreasing Math Anxiety in College Students By Perry, Andrew B College Student Journal, Vol. 38, No. 2, June 2004
Gender Issues in the Classroom: A Comparison of Mathematics Anxiety By Campbell, Kathleen T.; Evans, Cay Education, Vol. 117, No. 3, Spring 1997
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