Mathematics Anxiety And Students Performance In Mathematics

Mathematics as a subject is one of the most interesting subjects in secondary and tertiary institutions in Nigeria. There is a correlation between mathematics and other science subjects such as physics, chemistry and biology and some social science subjects such as economics, accounting and banking and finance. Mathematics is very popular among science students; however most students shy away from mathematics; they tend to develop a kind of anxiety towards mathematics. The anxiety students develop for mathematics might because by several factors; it could be as a result of teachers experience, student-teacher relationship, poor mathematics background, experiences from past students etc. It could also be as a result of lack of adequate mathematics instructions and materials for teaching and learning. This article will try to establish a correlation between mathematics anxiety and students performance in mathematics. This anxiety is also seen in their undergraduate projects research topics choices and departmental assignments and seminars.


Anxiety is one of the most common mental health conditions in the Nigeria and is estimated to affect 10.2 million people at any one time. Anxiety disorders are associated with a substantial degree of impairment to an individual’s mental and physical health, high use of healthcare services and, due to their effect on work attendance rates, significant economic burden for wider society. Anxiety can occur when we are worried, uneasy or fearful about events that are about to happen or may happen in the future. Although anxiety about perceived threats is a natural human response that most people experience, if such thoughts start to have a negative impact on an individual’s daily life, they may be a sign of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can affect a person’s quality of life significantly and are associated with: Impaired social and occupational functioning; Comorbidity with other disorders; an increased risk of suicide.


There is a number of different anxiety disorders, but they can be difficult to diagnose and, in some cases, difficult to distinguish from other mental health conditions, including depression (Baxter et al, 2014). The most common disorder to present in primary care is generalised anxiety disorder (GAD); this is characterised by chronic anxiety, worry and tension experienced without a direct environmental stimulus, such as an experience that induces fear. GAD can carry with it a significant degree of comorbidity and impairment to daily functioning, and patients


Mathematics anxiety is a consequence of “an inability to handle frustration, excessive school absences, poor self-concept, internalized negative parental and teacher attitudes toward mathematics, and an emphasis on learning mathematics through drill without “real” understanding”. Environmental variables include negative experiences in class or in family contexts, teacher and parent characteristics, as well as extrinsic expectations. Intellectual variables include the child’s level of more general cognitive abilities, while personality variables comprise concepts such as self-esteem, self-concept, attitude, confidence and learning behavior.


It has been shown repeatedly that there is a significant relationship between levels of mathematics anxiety and performance as assessed by standardized tests. Nevertheless, the question whether mathematics anxiety is the cause or rather consequence of poor performance is not settled. In general, achievement scores in standardized mathematical performance tests tend to be lower the higher the mathematics anxiety level of an individual is. Studies focusing on mathematics anxiety in earlier years of schooling do not always find such an effect at all. Trying to reconcile such contradictory findings for younger as compared to older students some authors have challenged their own designs. However, the missing correlation between achievement and mathematics anxiety in younger populations may indicate that mathematics anxiety cannot be fully explained by a failure to perform, and may, thus, not be a consequence of poor mathematical ability. The relationship between mathematics anxiety and achievement may actually be age and gender dependent, i.e. getting more pronounced with increasing age and longer schooling. Mathematics anxious individuals tend to avoid mathematics-associated situations and as a result, develop poorer mathematical abilities than their non-anxious peers.


Summarizing the current state of research on mathematics anxiety, the main message is that more systematic research also integrating neurocognitive methods is needed in order to gain a better understanding of the critical factors that determine the development of mathematics anxiety, of its dynamics over time, and its effect for the individual and its cognitive and emotional development. On the one hand, there is not enough data on the prevalence and manifestations of mathematics anxiety in younger populations, on how the different variables that were previously identified to be related to mathematics anxiety interact in the course of development, and on the longitudinal effects of mathematics anxiety. On the other hand, intervention studies should be implemented in order to evaluate different remedial approaches and their effectiveness for different age groups. The only way to gain deeper insights into the underlying mechanisms of the development of mathematics anxiety will be through longitudinal investigations that compare anxious and non-anxious individuals over an adequate period of time, i.e. starting as early as possible, ideally at pre-school age, and ending only after completion of formal schooling. In order to work out possible causal links between the relevant factors identified by previous studies, the collected data should range from information regarding an individual’s social and cultural background to the data on his or her domain-general and domain-specific cognitive abilities. Additionally, future research should guard against the collection of potentially biased data (e.g. self-reports). Thus, assessment in the context of research on mathematics anxiety should be made more objective by including (psycho-) physiological or even neuroimaging methods into the study designs. In conclusion, future studies on mathematics anxiety that combine multi-method research designs with longitudinal approaches may help to generate more complex models of the dynamics of mathematics anxiety over time, its determining factors, and its detrimental effects for the individual and development.

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