Academic journal article Australian Mathematics Teacher

Maths Anxiety: Steve Dossel, an Educational Psychologist of Toowoomba, Writes about Maths Anxiety and the Implications It Has for Teachers

Academic journal article Australian Mathematics Teacher

Maths Anxiety: Steve Dossel, an Educational Psychologist of Toowoomba, Writes about Maths Anxiety and the Implications It Has for Teachers

Article excerpt

"The feeling that one has no control over one's fate is depressing."

Maths anxiety

Introduction teachers of mathematics have been faced for many years with the problems caused by the negative attitudes students have developed towards the subject. Such negative attitudes lead to avoidance strategies, disruptive behaviours, and maths anxiety. In this article, maths anxiety will be defined and its relationship to achievement in mathematics will be explored, before the factors leading to the creation of maths anxiety are discussed in some detail. Finally, methods of prevention or reduction of maths anxiety will be examined.

The term, maths anxiety has been used to describe the panic, helplessness, paralysis and mental disorganization that arises among some people when they are required to solve a mathematical problem. (Hunt 1985, p. 32)

Although high levels of maths anxiety and decreased achievement in mathematics frequently occur concurrently, there is, at this time, no clear evidence that the former causes the latter (Reyes 1984, p. 566). One would expect intuitively that if there is a strong correlation between maths anxiety and achievement, then such a causal relationship would exist. However, researchers do not seem to have found this to be the case. This leads one to hypothesize that perhaps anxiety and achievement are both caused by another factor --possibly the learning/teaching environment. This hypothesis, if supported by research, would have important implications for the classroom.

Factors leading to the creation of maths anxiety

At least eight factors leading to the creation of maths anxiety have been identified. These will be examined individually. Personality factors In examining the influence of personality factors on the development of maths anxiety, most current research has focussed on the effects of 'attributional style'. The attribution model (Seligman & Maier, 1967; Abramson, Seligman & Teasdale, 1978) states that the individual's reaction to a task is strongly influenced by the factors to which the individual attributes success or failure. Factors to which success or failure may be attributed may be categorized along three dimensions:

(a) Internal-external. Success or failure may be attributed to factors inherent in the individual such as ability or to factors external to the individual such as insufficient time or overly difficult work.

(b) Stable-unstable. The factor to which success or failure is attributed in this instance may always have the same effect or it may be unstable in that different effects sometimes occur.

(c) Global-specific. Success or failure may be attributed to a factor which occurs in many situations, or to a factor which is specific to this particular situation.

If one attributes an unpleasant experience to factors that are external to oneself, unstable in that they do not occur on every occasion, and specific to a particular event, then one will not experience undue distress. However, if one attributes the event to internal, stable and global factors, one is likely to become depressed since the belief is that the failure is due to one's own weaknesses, will always occur, and will occur in a wide range of circumstances. One of the commonest internal, stable, global attributions is the myth of the mathematical mind which is presumed to be the result of some genetic trait.

Results of studies into student attributions in mathematics have been equivocal, but suggest that attributions to skill, ability, immediate effort and consistent effort may affect the student's approach to the subject. Attributions to skill and ability offer a pessimistic prognosis since they refer to factors which are internal and stable. Attributions to effort whether immediate or consistent provide cause for optimism, since these refer to factors which are external to the individual.

The term 'learned helplessness' refers to the belief held by the student that, for him/her, success cannot be attributed to effort. …

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