Emotions and mathematics

Research has also shown that specific emotional aspects (e.g., mathematics anxiety) relate to mathematical performance (Hembree, 1900; Ma, 1999; Wu, 2012).

This blog post is inspired from a recent paper published in PLOSone open access journal (BTW, did you know that most science papers are ‘reserved’ for the scientific community and generally cost 30$ per article. Some ‘open access journal’ make it available for free and its the researcher has to cover the publishing fees.)    Aaaaaanyways  …     In this study, 143 school children in sixth to eighth grade were tested on general anxiety, depressive symptoms, working memory, self-concept (academic and competence scales), ego-resiliency, and mathematics and reading literacy. They analyzed the variance in the data – typical of psychologist research. They found that working memory, negative affect (i.e., general anxiety and depressive symptoms), and personal assets (i.e., self-concept, academic and competence dimensions, and ego-resiliency) predicted scores in mathematics and reading literacy (both being a form of academic achievement test). In other words, your ability to hold information in your head (in working memory) and your math skills will probably impact your math scores …. and so does your own perceptions of yourself and your ability to bounce back on mistakes !   Read the original study available for free on PLOSone open access journal website : Donolato E, Giofrè D, Mammarella IC. Working memory, negative affect and personal assets: How do they relate to mathematics and reading literacy? PLoS One. 2019 Jun 27;14(6)

Tests and questionnaires used in this study (similar to our work in neuropsychology, this study relies on the use of various tests and questionnaires, useful to understand the humans they work with). Here is a list of what they choose to use: 

  • Negative affect The Revised Children’s Manifest Anxiety Scale: a self-report questionnaire
  • The Children’s Depression Inventory is a self-report questionnaire
  • The Questionnaire for the Assessment of Psychopathology in Adolescence is a self-report questionnaire
  • Personal assets The Ego-resiliency Scale : questionnaire on resilience as general resourcefulness, strength of character, and flexibility of functioning (e.g., “I quickly recover from being startled”).
  • Multidimensional Self-Concept Scale is a self-report tool for assessing self-concept in children and adolescents.
  • Working memory tasks like the Verbal dual tasks test, the Listening span test, the Visuospatial Matrices span—Backward test or the Dot matrix task test
  • Mathematics and reading – academic achievement test

Other scientific articles referenced in this text:

  • Hembree R. The Nature, Effects, and Relief of Mathematics Anxiety. J Res Math Educ. 1990;21(1):33–46.
  • Ma X. A Meta-Analysis of the Relationship between Anxiety toward Mathematics and Achievement in Mathematics. J Res Math Educ. 1999;30(5):520–40.
  • Wu SS, Barth M, Amin H, Malcarne V, Menon V. Math anxiety in second and third graders and its relation to mathematics achievement. Front Psychol. 2012;3:1–11.

Take home message: isn’t it fascinating how one`s own perceptions of yourself and your ability to bounce back on mistakes has an impact on performance!