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Abstract

In a series of studies, I investigate the individual and inter-generational effects of math anxiety and performance pressure. Adults who suffer from math anxiety tend to underperform in math, and the children in their care tend to have lower math achievement levels. In study 1, I test out a novel intervention designed to improve math performance by freeing up working memory resources compromised by anxiety. I found that, on math problems that place high demands on working memory, young adults’ math anxiety was negatively related to math performance. Further, a drawing intervention condition, which involved having participants express their emotions through art before the math task, resulted in higher performance on challenging math problems than a control condition. In Study 2, I investigate the intergenerational impacts of math anxiety and performance pressure, exploring how parent math anxiety and the level of pressure one is put under during a math interaction impacts parent/child math interactions. I found that adults who were math anxious or in a high-pressure condition provided lower quality math instruction to their children as measured by a modified teacher rating scale. Parents under pressure were also more intrusive, taking over more of the work of generating problem solving strategies from their child as compared to those in the lower pressure condition. In Study 3, I tested an intervention designed to break the link between high parent math anxiety and poor student math performance in a lower income sample. I found that a math app that had previously been found to be successful in breaking this link in a higher income sample was not effective in this sample, potentially due to much lower app usage. These findings contribute to our understanding of the relation between math anxiety and math achievement, both within and between individuals, identify a novel way to intervene at the individual level, and set the stage for future studies that aim to intervene to cut the tie between math anxiety and math achievement.

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