Girls report more maths anxiety on general survey measures
but are not actually more anxious during maths classes and exams, according to
new research forthcoming in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association
for Psychological Science.
Existing research suggests that females are more anxious
when it comes to mathematics than their male peers, despite similar levels of
achievement. But education researchers Thomas Götz and Madeleine Bieg of the
University of Konstanz and the Thurgau University of Teacher Education and
colleagues identified a critical limitation of previous studies examining maths
anxiety: They asked students to describe more generalised perceptions of
mathematics anxiety, rather than assessing anxiety during actual maths classes
To address this limitation, the researchers conducted two
studies in which they collected data from approximately 700 students from
grades 5 to 11.
In the first study, they compared students' responses on two
different measures: A questionnaire measuring anxiety about math tests, and
their real-time self-reports of anxiety directly before and during a maths exam.
In the second study, they compared questionnaire measures of
maths anxiety with repeated real-time assessments obtained during maths classes
via mobile devices.
Findings from the two studies replicated prior research and
existing gender stereotypes, showing that girls reported more maths anxiety than
boys on generalised assessments, despite similar maths achievement.
However, the data obtained during maths exams and classes
revealed that girls did not experience more anxiety than boys in real-life
The data further suggest that lower self-reported competence
in mathematics may underlie the discrepancy between the levels of anxiety
reported by girls in the two settings. The researchers note that general
questionnaires may allow inaccurate beliefs about maths ability to negatively
bias girls' assessments of their maths abilities and exacerbate their maths
According to Götz, Bieg, and colleagues, these results
suggest that stereotyped beliefs regarding maths ability, rather than actual
ability or anxiety differences, may be largely responsible for women not
choosing to pursue careers in maths-intensive domains.