Maths anxiety?? Your parents and teachers are more responsible for it

A report out today examines the factors that influence maths anxiety among primary and secondary school students, showing that teachers and parents may inadvertently play a role in a child’s development of the condition and that girls tend to be more affected than boys.


Many students claim not to like math. But for some, the issue with math is more than simply disliking algebra or fractions.

For some students, doing math can cause negative emotions like fear of failure. This harms their ability to perform. And this is what called as maths anxiety.

In a new report, scientists examined the factors that influence ‘maths anxiety’ among primary and secondary school students. What scientists found is that teachers and parents play a vital role in this condition.

Mathematics is often considered a difficult subject. not all difficulties with the subject result from cognitive difficulties. Many children and adults experience feelings of anxiety, apprehension, tension or discomfort when confronted by a maths problem.

A report published today by the Centre for Neuroscience in Education at the University of Cambridge explores the nature and resolution of so-called ‘mathematics anxiety’.

In a sample of 1,000 Italian students, the scientists found that girls in both primary and secondary school had larger amounts of the two maths anxiety and general anxiety.

Progressively nitty gritty examination in 1,700 UK schoolchildren found that a general feeling that maths was more troublesome than different subjects regularly added to maths anxiety, prompting a need or loss of certainty. Understudies indicated poor checks or test outcomes, or negative correlations with peers or siblings as explanations behind feeling anxious.

Dr. Denes Szucs from the Department of Psychology, the study’s lead author said, “While every child’s math anxiety may be different, with unique origins and triggers, we found several common issues among both the primary and secondary school students that we interviewed.”

Students often discussed the role that their teachers and parents played in their development of maths anxiety. Primary-aged children referred to instances where they had been confused by different teaching methods, while secondary students commented on poor interpersonal relations.

Secondary students indicated that the transition from primary to secondary school had been a cause of math anxiety, as the work seemed harder and they couldn’t cope. There was also greater pressure from tests – in particular, SATS – and an increased homework load.

In a study published in 2018, the researchers showed that it is not only children with low maths ability who experience maths anxiety – more than three-quarters (77%) of children with high maths anxiety are normal to high achievers on curriculum maths tests.

Dr. Amy Devine, the 2018 study’s first author, who now works for Cambridge Assessment English said, “Because these children perform well attests, their maths anxiety is at high risk of going unnoticed by their teachers and parents, who may only look at performance but not at emotional factors. But their anxiety may keep these students away from STEM fields for life when in fact they would be perfectly able to perform well in these fields.”

This recent study suggests that people with greater maths anxiety perform worse than their true maths ability.

The researchers set out a number of recommendations in the report. These include the need for teachers to be conscious that an individual’s maths anxiety likely affects their mathematics performance. Teachers and parents also need to be aware that their own maths anxiety might influence their students’ or child’s maths anxiety and that gendered stereotypes about mathematics suitability and ability might contribute to the gender gap in maths performance.

Co-author Dr. Ros McLellan from the Faculty of Education said, “Teachers, parents, brothers and sisters and classmates can all play a role in shaping a child’s maths anxiety. Parents and teachers should also be mindful of how they may unwittingly contribute to a child’s maths anxiety. Tackling their own anxieties and belief systems in maths might be the first step to helping their children or students.”

The researchers say that as maths anxiety is present from a young age but may develop as the child grows, further research should be focused on how maths anxiety can be best remediated before any strong link with performance begins to emerge.

“Our findings should be of real concern for educators. We should be tackling the problem of maths anxiety now to enable these young people to stop feeling anxious about learning mathematics and give them the opportunity to flourish,” says Dr. Szucs. “If we can improve a student’s experience within their maths lessons, we can help lessen their maths anxiety, and in turn, this may increase their overall maths performance.”

Josh Hillman, Director of Education at the Nuffield Foundation, said: “Mathematical achievement is valuable in its own right, as a foundation for many other subjects and as an important predictor of future academic outcomes, employment opportunities, and even health. Maths anxiety can severely disrupt students’ performance in the subject in both primary and secondary school.”

“But importantly – and surprisingly – this new research suggests that the majority of students experiencing maths anxiety have normal to high maths ability. We hope that the report’s recommendations will inform the design of the school and home-based interventions and approaches to prevent maths anxiety developing in the first place.”

For the study, scientists worked with more than 2,700 primary and secondary students in the UK and Italy to examine both maths anxiety and general anxiety. They also examined student’s mathematics performance and understand their cognitive abilities and feelings towards mathematics.

This is the first interview-based study of its kind to compare the mathematics learning experiences of a relatively large sample of students identified as mathematics anxious with similar children that are not mathematics anxious. Although further in-depth studies are needed to substantiate and expand upon this work, the findings indicate that the mathematics classroom is a very different world for children that are mathematics anxious compared to those that are not.

The report is available here.


See stories of the future in your inbox each morning.