Math Anxiety Interferes With Learning Novel Mathematics Contents in Early Elementary School

Carlo Tomasetto, Kinga Morsanyi, Veronica Guardabassi, Patrick A. O'Connor

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Abstract

Whereas some evidence exists that math anxiety may interfere with math performance from
the very beginning of primary school, no study to date has attempted to investigate whether math
anxiety may also interfere with early math learning (i.e., the encoding of new math knowledge), and
not only with recalling already mastered contents in test situations. Across two experiments carried
out in two different countries (Study 1: N = 115, conducted in Italy; Study 2: N = 120, conducted in
the UK), we addressed this question by presenting 6-year-old children with two math contents that
had not been covered by their school curriculum before the study. Children were tested immediately
before and immediately after the learning phase, and after a one-week delay. Results of longitudinal
structural models revealed that math anxiety was negatively related to initial level of knowledge in
the case of 3 out of 4 math contents. More importantly, math anxiety was also negatively related to
rate of learning in two out of four tasks (one task in Study 1 and one in Study 2). These studies
provide the first evidence that math anxiety may reduce the encoding of novel math contents in
memory in very young children, potentially leading to cumulative gaps in math proficiency for
children with math anxiety from the very beginning of their formal education.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Educational Psychology
Early online date27 Aug 2020
DOIs
Publication statusEarly online date - 27 Aug 2020

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