Math Anxiety and Its Cognitive Consequences

A Tutorial Review

Authored by: Mark H. Ashcraft , Kelly S. Ridley

Handbook of Mathematical Cognition

Print publication date:  December  2004
Online publication date:  August  2005

Print ISBN: 9781841694115
eBook ISBN: 9780203998045
Adobe ISBN: 9781135423667


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Math anxiety is defined as a negative reaction to math and to mathematical situations. In Richardson and Suinn’s (1972) words, it is “. . . a feeling of tension and anxiety that interferes with the manipulation of numbers and the solving of mathematical problems in a wide variety of ordinary life and academic situations” (p. 551). Math anxiety encompasses a range of emotional reactions, from mild states like apprehension or dislike to genuine fear or dread (McLeod, 1994; Richardson & Suinn, 1972). Indeed, Faust (1992) claims it to be a genuine phobia, based on standard diagnostic criteria (e.g., state anxiety reactions, signs of elevated cognitive or physiological arousal, a learned reaction that is stimulus- and situation-specific). Math-anxious individuals report difficulties and disruptions in their everyday activities, for instance, in balancing a checkbook or figuring change, and in academic settings, for instance, in classroom and standardized test taking. As Ashcraft (2002) noted, emotional reactions in lab experiments are not uncommon either.

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