Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Math Performance and Its Relationship to Math Anxiety and Metacognition

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Math Performance and Its Relationship to Math Anxiety and Metacognition

Article excerpt

Math anxiety is defined as a general fear or tension associated with anxiety-provoking situations that involve interaction with math. In a world in which Eastern cultures reliably outperform Western cultures on math performance tasks, the outcomes associated with math anxiety have far reaching implications (Ginsburg, Choi, Lopez, Netley, & Chi, 1997; Siegler & Mu, 2008; Stevenson & Stigler, 1992). Math anxiety can lead to negative outcomes such as avoidance of college math courses and majors or avoidance of careers that involve frequent math use (Ashcraft, 2002; Chipman, Krantz, & Silver, 1992, Hembree, 1990). For these reasons, additional research on the implications of math anxiety and the cognitive mechanisms associated with math anxiety is essential.

The mechanisms contributing to successful mathematical thinking are complex and diverse, ranging from components operating within the memory system to those contributing to problem solving and use of cognitive strategies. One of the key cognitive mechanisms in math problem solving, and a significant area of research within the math cognition domain, is the utilization of the working memory system (Ashcraft & Kirk, 2001; LeFevre, DeStafano, Coleman, & Shanahan, 2005). A critical issue, therefore, is how and why, math anxiety modulates efficient cognitive processing, as it has been shown that anxiety can tax working memory to such an extent that even individuals with high math aptitude will perform poorly (Beilock & Carr, 2005). Although anxiety can impact processing in a number of ways, one proposal relevant to the current research is the view that anxiety may create a "dual-task" situation that strains working memory resources (Ashcraft, 2002; Ashcraft & Krause, 2007; Eysenck & Calvo, 1992). Individuals might, for example, devote attention to rumination on anxious thoughts that divert resources from the task of problem solving (e.g., devoting resources to worrying about performance rather than application of problem solving strategies).

Given that math anxiety can hinder performance even for individuals with high aptitude, it is important to investigate under what circumstances certain mechanisms are involved in the intrusion of anxiety in performance. A number of potential issues have been explored, such as individual differences in working memory capacity as well as the nature of the math problems themselves (Ashcraft & Krause, 2007; Beilock & Carr, 2005). However, a relatively unexamined area is how one's own thoughts about math ability or cognitive processing may or may not lead to deleterious effects of anxiety. Ashcraft (2002), for example, called for research examining consequences of math anxiety in relation to how individuals perceive their own math competence and performance when solving math problems. One means of exploring this aspect of math cognition is through an investigation of individual differences in metacognition.

Loosely defined, metacognition is often referred to as "thinking about thinking." The abstract nature of metacognition leads to difficulty in developing one all-encompassing, yet meaningful definition that lends itself to empirical investigation (e.g., Schoenfeld, 1992). Explanations of the construct also vary across disciplines, with educational research often viewing metacognition differently than psychological and cognitive domains. However, Schraw and Moshman (1995) proposed a fairly exhaustive description of the components involved in metacognition that is widely accepted in both the educational and psychological fields. These researchers defined metacognition as consisting of two domains; metacognitive knowledge and regulation of cognition. Each domain is comprised of three subdomains.

The first domain, metacognitive knowledge, encompasses all of the knowledge and insight possessed regarding what is already known about cognitions, according to Schraw and Moshman (1995). …

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