Correlates and Possible Causes of Mathematics Anxiety
Eugene E. Levitt Department of Psychiatry Indiana University School of Medicine
Lucreda A. Hutton Department of Mathematical Sciences Indiana-Purdue University at Indianapolis
The debilitating effects of academic anxiety on student performance have long been recognized ( Levitt, 1980). Educational and psychological researchers have been studying the phenomenon that is usually known as test anxiety for many years ( Spielberger Sarason, 1978). However, it is only recently that subject-specific anxieties have been considered. The paramount example is the phenomenon known popularly as mathematics anxiety. R. M. Suinn, a leading researcher in this area, reported in 1970 that over one-third of a group of college students participating in a program to reduce test anxiety indicated that discomfort with mathematics courses was at the center of their academic fears ( Suinn, 1970).
Recognition that the world of verbal symbol users is uneasy with number concepts has probably been known at some level since the beginning of public education. There is some evidence that mathematics anxiety begins as early as the first or second grade ( Papay, Costello, Hedl & Spielberger, 1975). Formal remediation efforts began at least a decade and a half ago ( Natkin, 1966). Almost all the published research has appeared in the last decade, sparked by the development of the Mathematics Anxiety Rating Scale (MARS) by Suinn ( Suinn, Edie, Nicoletti, & Spinelli, 1972). Suinn's definition ( Richardson & Suinn, 1972) of the phenomenon is succinct: "...a