Math anxiety in children with and without mathematical difficulties: the role of gender and genetic factors

Caviola, Sara; Mammarella, Irene C. and Kovas, Yulia. 2019. Math anxiety in children with and without mathematical difficulties: the role of gender and genetic factors. In: Irene C. Mammarella; Sara Caviola and Ann Dowker, eds. Mathematics Anxiety: What is Known and What is Still to be Understood. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 141-155. ISBN 9780367190330 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

Mathematics anxiety is generally defined as feeling tense, fearful and apprehensive about mathematics (Richardson & Suinn, 1972). It is a multi-dimensional construct, characterized by different types of reactions: emotional (i.e., negative feelings); cognitive (e.g., intrusive concerns and thoughts); physiological (e.g., increased arousal, stress and agitation); and behavioural (e.g., avoiding contexts that require the use of mathematical skills, disengagement and off-task behaviours).From a different angle, math anxiety can generate reverse effect than positive factors, such as an interest toward mathematics and self-efficacy (Moore, Rudig & Ashcraft, 2014). Individuals with high levels of math anxiety tend to take fewer mathematics courses; gain lower grades in those they do attend; and avoid, where possible, additional maths classes (Ashcraft, 2002).In addition, highly math-anxious students are also more likely to avoid mathematically-oriented college majors and career paths that require quantitative skills (Ashcraft, Krause, & Hopko, 2007; Ashcraft & Moore, 2009).Math anxiety seems to have serious long-term consequences, adversely influencing an individual’s choice of career, type of occupation, and professional growth in adulthood (Ashcraft & Ridley, 2005; Beasley, Long & Natali, 2001; Hembree, 1990; Ho et al., 2000). Beyond consequences for an individual’s personal life, math anxiety also affects society. For example, in the USA math anxiety may contribute to the shortage of graduates, who want to work in the area of science, technology, engineering and mathematics-for the demands of a technology-dependent society -despite increased emphasis on improving mathematical education (Beilock & Maloney, 2015).

Because of its consequences in limiting people’s mastery of mathematics, math anxiety has become a subject of increasing interest in educational, rather than only clinical settings. Many factors are involved in the links between math anxiety and mathematics. For example, these links depend on the nature of mathematics, such as increasing complexity of its contents during the school-years. In the following sections, we summarize previous studies of math anxiety, focusing on gender differences, distinction between mathematics difficulties related to math anxiety vs those related to specific mathematics impairments, and the role of genetic factors.

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Book Section

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This is an Accepted Manuscript of a book chapter published by Routledge/CRC Press in Mathematics Anxiety: What is Known and What is Still to be Understood on 26 February 2019, available online:


mathematics, anxiety, math anxiety

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15 January 2019Accepted
18 February 2019Published Online
26 February 2019Published

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Date Deposited:

06 Mar 2019 10:31

Last Modified:

12 Jun 2021 01:38


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