Overcoming Math Anxiety


Among students with math anxiety, some are able to overcome their anxiety and do well on tests of math learning but others are unable to shake their anxiety and this results in low math achievement.

This research examines ways of helping students overcome their anxiety through an embodied or grounded psychology approach.  Embodied psychology theories suggest that many of our abstract concepts and emotions are grounded in physical and embodied understandings.  For instance, our understandings of personalities as either warm or cold may be linked to our physical experience with temperature.  Indeed research has shown that people who are given a warm drink (e.g., hot coffee) judge other people to have warmer personalities (more generous, more trustworthy) than people who are given iced coffee (Williams & Bargh, 2008). In addition, heavy clipboards lead to weightier importance ratings (Jostmann, Lakens, & Schubert, 2009) and nodding one's head leads to more positive ratings of objects (Forster & Strack, 1996).  These and other findings in embodied psychology has led psychologists to consider the role of bodily interactions with the environment in mental activities. 

The problem of math anxiety can be construed as a motivational issue.  Perhaps math anxious individuals feel predisposed to avoid math and lack approach motivations.  Previous research in embodied psychology have found that flexion inadvertently activates approach motivations and associated psychological behaviors (Forster, 2003, 2004; Forster & Friedman, 2002; Forster, Higgins, & Idson, 1998) presumably because we have a systematic history of flexing our arms in order to bring desirable objects closer to ourselves.  So even though a student might feel anxious about mathematics, we are examining the potential ameliorative effects of having their body positioned in a way that approaches math.  Also, we are examining the negative effects of having their body avoid or reject math.

Overcoming Math Anxiety

would positioning our hands in an approach (pulling towards) or Avoid (pushing away) manner change the way we perform on math problems?