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Maths Anxiety and Subjective Perception of Control, Value and Success Expectancy in Mathematics

Professor Dénes Szücs

Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychology, Fellow in Darwin College, University of Cambridge


Mathematics anxiety (MA) is an academic anxiety related to doing, learning and testing mathematics. MA can negatively affect mathematics performance, motivation and maths-heavy science and technology-related career choices. Previous data suggest that subjective perceptions and interpretations of students are key in the genesis of MA. Here, based on expectancy-value and control-value theory, we aimed to identify potential, theoretically based subjective factors probably key to understanding MA. We analysed data from 151 745 fifteen-year-old children from 65 ‘countries and economies' from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2012 dataset. Subjective self-perceptions had a stronger relationship with MA than maths achievement. We found that higher MA was associated with lower perceived control over maths activities and lower subjective expectation of success. Surprisingly, children with higher subjective valuation of maths had higher MA for similar levels of subjective control and success expectancy in maths. Results offer an improved understanding of potential antecedents of MA and suggest that effective interventions could be based on gradual confidence building in maths. These could primarily draw on a deeper understanding of the subject improving subjective success expectancy and feeling of control over maths activities. Cultural variation in findings is discussed.

Highlights of the paper

High MA is associated with low perceived control over maths and low subjective expectation of success in maths.

  • High MA is associated with relatively high valuation of maths.

  • Interactions and nonlinearities were minor in the data.

  • MA may be alleviated by gradual confidence building in maths.

  • There is notable cultural variation in subjective factors relevant to MA.

Szucs Denes and Toffalini Enrico.2023 Maths anxiety and subjectiveperception of control, value andsuccess expectancy in mathematics.R. Soc. Open Sci. 10: 231000.

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