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Dev Sci. 2014 May;17(3):366-75. doi: 10.1111/desc.12126. Epub 2014 Jan 11.

Young-age gender differences in mathematics mediated by independent control or uncontrollability.

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Centre for Neuroscience in Education, Department of Psychology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Cambridge, UK.


We studied whether the origins of math anxiety can be related to a biologically supported framework of stress induction: (un)controllability perception, here indicated by self-reported independent efforts in mathematics. Math anxiety was tested in 182 children (8- to 11-year-olds). Latent factor modeling was used to test hypotheses on plausible causal processes and mediations within competing models in quasi-experimental contrasts. Uncontrollability perception in mathematics, or (in)dependence of efforts, best fit the data as an antecedent of math anxiety. In addition, the relationship of math anxiety with gender was fully mediated by adaptive perception of control (i.e. controllability). That is, young boys differ from girls in terms of their experience of control in mathematics learning. These differences influence math anxiety. Our findings are consistent with recent suggestions in clinical literature according to which uncontrollability makes women more susceptible to fear and anxiety disorders.

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