Math Anxiety - Literature Review

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Introduction This paper focuses on the adult who suffers from math anxiety, with occasional references concerning math anxiety throughout the lifespan. It will cover definitions and characterizations of math anxiety, its prevalence, proposed causes, treatment (both self-help and instructional), effects and directions for further research. Definitions of Math Anxiety There are many definitions of math anxiety. According to Fiore (1999), Tobias and Weissbrod (1980) define math anxiety as “the panic, helplessness, paralysis, and mental disorganization that arises among some people when they are required to solve a mathematical problem”, page 403. It is both an emotional and cognitive dread of mathematics. While some anxiety can be motivating or even exciting, too much anxiety can cause “downshifting” in which “the brain’s normal processing mechanisms begin to change by narrowing perceptions, inhibiting short term memory and behaving in more primal reactions” (McKee 2002, page 2). Pries & Biggs (2001) describe a cycle of math avoidance: In phase one, the person experiences negative reactions to math situations. These may result from past negative experiences with math, and lead to a second phase in which a person avoids math situations. This avoidance leads to phase three, poor mathematics preparation, which brings them to phase four, poor math performance. This generates more negative experiences with math and brings us back to phase one. This cycle can repeat so often that the math anxious person becomes convinced they cannot do math and the cycle is rarely broken. Arem (2003) equates a lot of math anxiety with math test anxiety, which she says is three-fold: Poor test preparation, poor test-taking strategies and psychological pressures. She says it’s exacerbated by poor health habits, especially diet and sleep. There are some more biological studies done on
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