Disentangling the individual and contextual effects of math anxiety: A global perspective

Math anxiety is a common affective disorder in students that is characterized by intrusive thoughts that disrupt critical cognitive resources required for math problem-solving. Consistent associations between math anxiety and math achievement have been observed across countries and age groups, placing math anxiety among other important correlates of math achievement, such as socioeconomic status and magnitude representation ability.

However, studies examining math anxiety’s relation to achievement have largely focused on the effect of students’ own math anxiety (individual effect), while little is known regarding the effect of math anxiety in students’ educational context (contextual effect). Using three international studies of achievement (n = 1,175,515), we estimated both the individual and contextual effects of math anxiety across the globe.
Results suggest that while there are consistent individual effects in virtually all countries examined, the contextual effects are varied, with only approximately half of the countries exhibiting a contextual effect.

Additionally, we reveal that teacher confidence in teaching math is associated with a reduction of the individual effect, and country’s level of uncertainty avoidance is related to a lessening of the contextual effect.

Finally, we uncovered multiple predictors of math anxiety; notably, student perception of teacher competence was negative related with math anxiety, and parental homework involvement was positively related with math anxiety.

Taken together, these results suggest that there are significant between-country differences in how math anxiety may be related with math achievement and suggest that education and cultural contexts as important considerations in understanding math anxiety’s effects on achievement.