FRANCISCO - Worrying about how you’ll perform on a math test may
actually contribute to a lower test score, U.S. researchers said on
Math anxiety — feelings of dread and fear and avoiding
math — can sap the brain’s limited amount of working capacity, a
resource needed to compute difficult math problems, said Mark Ashcraft,
a psychologist at the University of Nevada Las Vegas who studies the
“It turns out that math anxiety occupies a person’s
working memory,” said Ashcraft, who spoke on a panel at the annual
meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in
Ashcraft said while easy math tasks such as
addition require only a small fraction of a person’s working memory,
harder computations require much more.
Worrying about math takes
up a large chunk of a person’s working memory stores as well, spelling
disaster for the anxious student who is taking a high-stakes test.
about how one does on tests like college entrance exams can make even
good math students choke. “All of a sudden they start looking for the
short cuts,” said University of Chicago researcher Sian Beilock.
test preparation classes can help students overcome this anxiety, they
are limited to students whose families can afford them.
Ultimately, she said, “It may not be wise to rely completely on scores to predict who will succeed.”
the causes of math anxiety are unknown, Ashcraft said people who manage
to overcome math anxiety have completely normal math proficiency.