Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




While research continues to link increased math anxiety with reduced working memory, the exact nature of the relationship remains elusive. In addition, research regarding the extent of the impact math anxiety has on working memory is contradictory. This research clarifies the directional nature of math anxiety as it pertains to working memory, and the extent of impact it has in non-math tasks. Forty low, moderate, and high math anxious participants completed both a math and non-math working memory intensive task, several personality measures, and a series of progressively more taxing memory/attention tasks. There was no relationship between math anxiety and performance on a non-math task, but an inverse relationship between math anxiety and performance on the math portion of a working memory intensive math task. Math Anxiety was directly related to perfectionism and fear of negative evaluation. There was no relationship between math anxiety and processing speed, memory span, or selective attention. There was a significant effect of math anxiety on working memory, but this effect was limited to a math intensive task wherein the low math anxious group outperformed the moderate or high math anxious groups. Finally, scores on the Avoidant, Compulsive, and PTSD scales of the MCMI-III did not vary as a function of math anxiety, but the high anxiety group scored higher on the Anxiety scale of the MCMI-III than both the moderately and low math anxious groups. Exploratory analysis revealed an effect of math anxiety on SAT total score and SAT English, Math, and Science scores. Low math anxious individuals had higher SAT total and Math scores than both moderately and highly math anxious individuals, higher English scores than the high math anxious individuals, and both the low and moderately math anxious group had higher SAT Science scores than the high anxious groups. In a laboratory, the working memory deficit associated with math anxiety is limited to working memory intensive math tasks, but the real world impact appears more far reaching. Future research should clarify this relationship while controlling for the impact of other related constructs such as perfectionism and fear of negative evaluation.

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Psychology Commons