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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Investigating the relation between working memory and math anxiety as contributors to elementary students' math task performance Murphy, Meagan


Math anxiety (MA) is a negative emotional response to mathematics with detrimental long-term consequences for math achievement. Although this math anxiety-achievement link is well understood in adulthood, less is known about MA and its relatedness to math performance and other cognitive variables in childhood. The present study aimed to determine the extent to which students in elementary school reported feelings of MA, whether reports differed by gender or grade level, and how these reports of MA were related to math performance on simple calculation fluency, multi-step calculation accuracy, and problem-solving tasks. Another goal of this study was to examine how MA interacted with working memory (WM) to contribute to math task performance. Students participated in two testing sessions, the first of which involved standardized tests of WM and math fluency, multi-step calculation, and word problem solving, followed by a second session where they completed a MA questionnaire. Nonparametric group comparisons revealed that MA scores were not significantly different between boys and girls or across grades. MA scores were correlated with performance on all math skills. MA scores were most strongly correlated with multi-step calculation, followed by problem solving and fluency. In addition, MA scores were most strongly correlated with verbal WM, followed by visual-spatial WM. Moderation and mediation analyses were conducted to examine the relation between MA, verbal WM, and math performance, which revealed that verbal WM mediated the relation between math fluency and multi-step calculation ability, but not problem-solving. These findings have implications for our understanding of how students’ math anxiety impacts their performance, highlighting the importance of discussing students’ feelings about math with the aim of promoting student self-efficacy and reducing anxiety.

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