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Description: Who said this: “the only way to overcome an inferiority complex about mathematics is to learn some”? It was a famous Psychologist (but it is not what they were best known for…). I will answer this question below, but first, think about this: do people develop anxiety about Math because they struggle with it or do people who are anxious about math do worse in math because of their anxiety?  Once you have a hypothesis in mind read the article linked below to see what international comparative research has to say.

Source: How to overcome math anxiety, David Ludden, Psychology Today.

Date: March 4, 2017

Photo Credit:  Steph Bravo

Links:  Article Link —


So what do you think now? By the way, it was B.F Skinner who provided the advice quoted up at the top of this posting. It seems that math anxiety can cause poor math performance but it also seems to be the case that poor math performance can lead to anxiousness. The best predictor of math anxiety seems to be the expression of anxiousness or stress by those teaching us our basic math, so our parents helping us with homework or our teachers in elementary school. If we can see a fear of numbers in their eyes we are more likely to develop such fears or anxieties ourselves.  Some interaction effects are interesting. Canadian students do better at math than their American counterparts but experience higher levels of anxiety when doing so. It does seem that B.F. Skinner was right, you have to learn some math to get over any math fears or anxieties you may have.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. How are math performance and anxiety related?
  2. What factors cause the relationship between math and anxiety levels to vary?
  3. Based on this research how should we teach mathematics?

References (Read Further):

Foley, A. E., Herts, J. B., Borgonovi, Guerriero, S., Levine, S. C., & Beilock, S. L. (2017). The math anxiety-performance link: A global phenomenon. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 26, 52-58.

Stevens, S. S. (1974). S. S. Stevens. In Lindzey, G. A history of psychology in autobiography, Vol. VI, The Century psychology series. (pp. 395-420). Englewood Cliffs, NJ, US: Prentice-Hall, Inc. doi: 10.1037/11553-013

Ramirez, G., Chang, H., Maloney, E. A., Levine, S. C., & Beilock, S. L. (2016). On the relationship between math anxiety and math achievement in early elementary school: the role of problem solving strategies. Journal of experimental child psychology, 141, 83-100.

Chang, H., & Beilock, S. L. (2016). The math anxiety-math performance link and its relation to individual and environmental factors: a review of current behavioral and psychophysiological research. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 10, 33-38.