Numeracy and math skills among adults and children in the United States routinely rank poorly relative to those from comparable nations. Progress in mathematics education can be facilitated by identification and removal of factors that impede math engagement and learning. One such factor is anxiety about mathematics. Math anxiety predicts avoidance of math and poor math achievement, and disproportionately affects individuals with math learning disabilities, women, minorities, and those from lower socio- economic backgrounds. Although substantial work has demonstrated the various correlates and deleterious effects of math anxiety, there is much less direct evidence about what causes it. The main goal of this research is to explore one potential cause of math anxiety that has received relatively little research attention: time-pressure. Time-pressure is a major aspect of math instruction and assessment, from elementary classrooms to university lecture halls. This research project, conducted by researchers from Georgetown University, will address three primary questions: (1) Does time-pressure in math settings cause math anxiety in-the-moment and, if so, are there physiological markers that identify on whom it has the greatest impact? (2) Does time-pressure have long-term implications for math learning, future resilience to time pressure, and math anxiety? (3) Does exposure to time-pressure in math settings have differential implications, whether positive or negative, depending on when in development that exposure occurred? The project is funded by a CAREER award from the EHR Core Research (ECR) program, which supports work that advances the fundamental research literature on STEM learning.

The project will use both an experimental approach (randomized controlled trial) and a longitudinal approach (cross-lagged longitudinal design). The investigators will also examine three different age groups for whom time-pressure in math settings is highly relevant, but may respond to this time-pressure in different ways: elementary (2nd grade), middle-school (8th grade), and college students. They will examine whether time- pressure impacts math anxiety and math performance in-the-moment, the impact time-pressure has on math learning and trait-level math anxiety, and whether exposure to time-pressure modulates the reciprocal interplay between changes in math anxiety and math ability across development. They will use behavioral as well as physiological measures of anxiety such as cardiac activity. Together, this work has the potential to inform decisions made by instructors about how to assess and encourage students to practice basic math skills. More broadly, these decisions have implications for consolidation of math skills in children and adults, changing attitudes about math, and equality of access to STEM careers.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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Georgetown University
United States
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