Lauer, J. E., Esposito, A. G., & Bauer, P. J. (2018). Domain-specific anxiety relates to children’s math and spatial performance.

Developmental Psychology, 54(11), 2126-2138. doi:10.1037/dev0000605

This article is an empirical research conducted by the authors on 394 elementary school children , in order to investigate the relationship between domain-specific anxiety,  math and spatial performance.

Article Summary

Lauer, Esposito and Bauer (2018) seek to investigate five main areas through their study:

  • Relationships between verbal, math and spatial anxiety. Verbal, math and spatial anxiety were found in their study to be positively correlated with each other and were not mitigated by gender or grade (age). 
  • Relation between math anxiety and achievement. The authors found that math scores can be only predicted by math anxiety, when reading skills and other domain-specific anxiety (e.g.verbal anxiety) were controlled. Additionally, increased negative relation was found as age increased between math anxiety and performance, while working memory and gender did not affect math anxiety and performance relationship.
  • Relationship between spatial anxiety and performance. Results show that although math, spatial, and verbal anxiety were all correlated negatively with spatial performance, none of the individual domain- specific anxieties (math, spatial and verbal anxieties) were uniquely predictive of spatial performance in elementary school children. Additionally, spatial anxiety and performance were unmitigated by gender and working memory. The spatial anxiety and performance effect was no longer significant after controlling for math and verbal anxiety.
  • Relationship between verbal anxiety and reading ability. Verbal anxiety only (not math or spatial anxiety) was found to account for differences in reading performance in their study.
  • Age, gender or working memory was not found to influence the relationship between verbal anxiety and reading ability. Gender differences in domain specific anxieties and performance was the last question the study addressed.  Girls were found to experience significantly greater math and spatial anxieties compared to boys in all grades, while there were no differences in verbal anxieties. There were also no gender differences in math, spatial and reading performance. Additionally, working memory and age did not affect gender and performance in this study.

Findings of this study imply math and spatial anxieties reported by elementary school girls are unrelated to actual performance differences. The educational implication of such findings is that teachers and parents should pay attention to girls experiencing math or spatial anxieties and to help them ease their anxieties as early as possible to minimize impact on future math and spatial performance.

Beilock and Willingham (2014) suggested emotional writing and parental involvement in domain specific activities (reading, math) at home as possible strategies to reduce anxieties. Additionally, the authors suggest that teachers and parents should address and challenge cultural stereotypes gender domains with young children to overcome perceived attitudes towards math and spatial performance.

Reference

Beilock, S. L., & Willingham, D. T. (2014). Math anxiety: Can teachers help students reduce it? ask the cognitive scientist. American Educator, 38(2), 28.

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