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Front Psychol. 2016 Jan 7;6:1987. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01987. eCollection 2015.

The Chicken or the Egg? The Direction of the Relationship Between Mathematics Anxiety and Mathematics Performance.

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1
Centre for Neuroscience in Education, Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge Cambridge, UK.

Abstract

This review considers the two possible causal directions between mathematics anxiety (MA) and poor mathematics performance. Either poor maths performance may elicit MA (referred to as the Deficit Theory), or MA may reduce future maths performance (referred to as the Debilitating Anxiety Model). The evidence is in conflict: the Deficit Theory is supported by longitudinal studies and studies of children with mathematical learning disabilities, but the Debilitating Anxiety Model is supported by research which manipulates anxiety levels and observes a change in mathematics performance. It is suggested that this mixture of evidence might indicate a bidirectional relationship between MA and mathematics performance (the Reciprocal Theory), in which MA and mathematics performance can influence one another in a vicious cycle.

KEYWORDS:

cognitive interference; debilitating anxiety; deficit theory; educational psychology; mathematics anxiety; mathematics performance; working memory

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