Oxbridge study claims girls are more susceptible to ‘maths anxiety’ than boys

Mimi Yagoub - News Reporter 3 August 2012

A recent study carried out on secondary school children by Oxbridge academics has revealed that girls are far more likely to suffer from ‘maths anxiety than boys’, and that this can lead to a poorer performance in the subject.

After 433 11-15 year olds were asked to complete a maths test followed by a questionnaire that monitored their behavioural and cognitive reactions, it was proved that raised levels of maths and test anxiety produced a negative correlation to the test results. Both maths and test anxiety were found to be higher in females than in males.

Despite this, girls did not show a drop in performance compared to the boys when it came to the test. The fact that both sexes obtain equal results even though the females were more compromised by their maths anxiety suggests that they have the potential to outshine men in the subject if this factor is eliminated.

The cause of this anxiety is not fully known but has been thought to be social pressures affecting girls from an early age. As the study states, “mathematics is traditionally viewed as a male domain”. This male-female stereotype still proves to be a popular one, as a first year mathmo stated in response to the question of why girls displayed more maths anxiety: “It’s because they’re not as good at maths as the boys”. However, we know this not to be true as, nationally, girls and boys perform equally well in the subject. In fact, mathematics is one of the only disciplines in which girls do not outperform boys. So why is there such a drastic imbalance in the number of male and female maths students? Since, as the same mathmo also pointed out, of the “240 mathmos in our year, 30 girls”. It is thought that due to these stereotypical views females are inevitably encouraged into believing that they are less competent than men in the subject. This has more than likely resulted in girls’ reluctance to practice mathematics and raised fear levels when they do.

Nonetheless, although it has been proved to be a more prominent issue with girls, maths anxiety does also affect boys, and could be the reason behind a lack of interest in the subject in later years. Dr Denes Szucs, who works in Cambridge’s Department of Experimental Psychology, points out that:

“Mathematics anxiety warrants attention in the classroom because it could have negative consequences for later mathematics education, particularly as it is thought to develop during the primary school years.”

Only 7% of students, male or female, choose to continue with this academic discipline beyond GCSE level. As such, the study itself also highly recommends that more importance be given into reducing anxiety levels in the classroom, as these can “lead to the development of negative attitudes towards mathematics.”

Mimi Yagoub – News Reporter