On the relationship between math anxiety and math achievement in early elementary school: The role of problem solving strategies


Even at young ages, children self-report experiencing math anxiety, which negatively relates to their math achievement. Leveraging a large dataset of first and second grade students’ math achievement scores, math problem solving strategies, and math attitudes, we explored the possibility that children’s math anxiety (i.e., a fear or apprehension about math) negatively relates to their use of more advanced problem solving strategies, which in turn relates to their math achievement. Our results confirm our hypothesis and, moreover, demonstrate that the relation between math anxiety and math problem solving strategies is strongest in children with the highest working memory capacity. Ironically, children who have the highest cognitive capacity avoid using advanced problem solving strategies when they are high in math anxiety and, as a result, underperform in math compared with their lower working memory peers.

Journal of Experimental Child Psychology