Attitudes and Mathematics Anxiety

Year: 1993

Author: Webb, Peter

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

It is apparent that some individuals develop aversions to certain areas of study. One subject that is well represented in this regard is mathematics. Students experience extreme discomfort and feelings of anxiety when doing or thinking about mathematics and the term commonly used to describe this condition is mathematics anxiety. It can occur in all levels of education from primary school to higher education and, once established, can persist for life, interfering with everyday activities involving numeracy and further learning of mathematics.

It is suggested that early identification of mathematics anxiety is most important for the future mathematics learning of the individual. A number of mathematics anxiety detecting scales have been developed in the USA, most notably the Mathematics Anxiety Rating Scale (MARS) devised by Richardson and Suinn (1972). Although having positive attributes, these instruments are not totally applicable to the Australian educational environment. As there are few, if any, recognised Australian mathematics anxiety scales, it was considered important to devise one that is specifically aimed at Australian students. In this case, the target group were students in higher education, where identification and subsequent treatment of mathematics anxiety is becoming increasingly more relevant because of greater access to students from non-traditional academic backgrounds due to mass education and the present Government emphasis on mathematics, science and technology.

Another imperative, at least as important as mathematics anxiety detection, is the identification of the underlying causes of mathematics anxiety so that preventative action can begin to predominate over the treatment of the symptoms. Suspecting a possible link between mathematics anxiety and mathematics attitudes, an Anxiety Scale for Mathematics (AnxSM) was devised together with an Attitude Scale for Mathematics (AttSM). Using both of these measuring instruments, an investigation was conducted into the relationship between mathematics anxiety and attitude towards mathematics.