The relation between math anxiety and basic numerical and spatial processing
Maloney, Erin Anne
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Math anxiety refers to the negative reaction that many people experience when placed in situations that require mathematical problem solving (Richardson & Suinn, 1972). This reaction can range from seemingly minor frustration to overwhelming emotional and physiological disruption (Ashcraft & Moore, 2009). In fact, it has been argued that math anxiety can be considered as a genuine phobia given that it is a state anxiety reaction, shows elevated cognitive and physiological arousal, and is a stimulus-learned fear (Faust, 1992). Math anxiety has been associated with many negative consequences, the most pertinent of which is poor achievement in math. This negative consequence is of central importance in today’s society as people’s mathematical abilities have been shown to strongly influence their employability, productivity, and earnings (Bishop, 1989; Bossiere, Knight, Sabot, 1985; Riviera-Batiz, 1992) A large literature exists demonstrating a negative relation between math anxiety and performance on complex math. That said, there is currently no published research (outside of that presented in this thesis) which investigates whether math anxiety is also related to the basic processes that serve as the foundations for that complex math. In this thesis I examine the relation between math anxiety and three of these basic processes that support complex mathematical problem solving. Specifically, in a series of experiments, I demonstrate that, in addition to their difficulties with complex math, high math anxious adults perform more poorly than their low math anxious peers on measures of counting (Experiments 1 and 2), numerical comparison (Experiment 3 and 4), and spatial processing (Experiment 5 and 6). My findings are then discussed with respect to their implications for our understanding of math anxiety and for potential remediation programs.