Cognitive theory from the field of general anxiety suggests that the tendency to display attentional bias toward negative information results in anxiety. Accordingly, the current study aims to investigate whether attentional bias is involved in math anxiety (MA) as well (i.e., a persistent negative reaction to math). Twenty seven participants (14 with high levels of MA and 13 with low levels of MA) were presented with a novel computerized numerical version of the well established dot probe task. One of six types of prime stimuli, either math related or typically neutral, was presented on one side of a computer screen. The prime was preceded by a probe (either one or two asterisks) that appeared in either the prime or the opposite location. Participants had to discriminate probe identity (one or two asterisks). Math anxious individuals reacted faster when the probe was at the location of the numerical related stimuli. This suggests the existence of attentional bias in MA. That is, for math anxious individuals, the cognitive system selectively favored the processing of emotionally negative information (i.e., math related words). These findings suggest that attentional bias is linked to unduly intense MA symptoms.
Cognitive and Emotional Math Problems Largely Dissociate: Prevalence of Developmental Dyscalculia and Mathematics Anxiety by Devine, Hill, Carey & Szűcs (2018). Journal of Educational Psychology, 110(3), 431-444.
Mathematics Achievement and Anxiety and their Relation to Internalizing and Externalizing Behaviors by Wu, Willcutt, Escovar & Menon (2014). Journal of Learning Disabilities, 47(6), 503-514.
Math anxiety has been found to be an emotional problem that has a negative effect on students´ academic performance across different levels of education. This type of anxiety could be related to certain cognitive and emotional processes. A first objective was to examine the relationship between math anxiety and certain inhibitory abilities responsible of eliminating intrusive thoughts or preventing them access to consciousness. A second aim was to determine the extent in which math anxiety and students´self-perceptions of their own emotional abilities are related. To this end, 187 first-year undergraduate psychology students were administered different measures to assess math anxiety, statistics anxiety, inhibitory abilities, and perceived emotional intelligence. The results showed that students with high math anxiety were more likely to experience intrusive thoughts, were less effective at suppressing these thoughts, and reported lower scores in understanding and regulating their emotions. These cognitive mechanisms and emotional abilities are of relevance to better understand the nature of this type of anxiety.
Mathematics, Anxiety, and the Brain by Moustafa, Tindle, Ansari, Doyle, Hewedi, Abeer (2017). Reviews in the Neurosciences, 28(4), 417-429.
We review how stress induction, time pressure manipulations and math anxiety can interfere with or modulate selection of problem-solving strategies (henceforth ‘strategy selection’) in arithmetical tasks. Nineteen relevant articles were identified, which contain references to strategy selection and time limit (or time manipulations), with some also discussing emotional aspects in mathematical outcomes. Few of these take cognitive processes such as working memory or executive functions into consideration. We conclude that due to the sparsity of available literature our questions can only be partially answered and currently there is not much evidence of clear associations. We identify major gaps in knowledge and raise a series of open questions to guide further research.
The Contribution of Memory and Anxiety to the Math Performance of College Students with Learning Disabilities by Prevatt, Welles, Li & Proctor (2010). Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 25(1), 39-47.