Math anxiety has been researched quite a lot, but this research shows a new possible insight. Some people may be at greater risk to fear math not only because of negative experiences, but also because of genetic risks related to both general anxiety and math skills. The results don’t mean that math anxiety can be blamed solely or even mostly on genetic factors, the researchers emphasized. In this study, genetic factors explained about 40 percent of the individual differences in math anxiety.
From the press release:
The study, which examined how fraternal and identical twins differ on measures of math anxiety, provides a revised view on why some children – and adults – may develop a fear of math that makes it more difficult for them to solve math problems and succeed in school.
“We found that math anxiety taps into genetic predispositions in two ways: people’s cognitive performance on math and their tendency toward anxiety,” said Zhe Wang, lead author of the study and postdoctoral researcher in psychology at The Ohio State University.
The results don’t mean that math anxiety can be blamed solely or even mostly on genetic factors, the researchers emphasized. In this study, genetic factors explained about 40 percent of the individual differences in math anxiety. Much of the rest was explained by the different environments — in the school, in the home and elsewhere — that the twins experienced.
But the findings do suggest that we can’t say that classroom quality, aspects of the home, or other environmental factors are the only reasons why people differ in how they experience math
“Genetic factors may exacerbate or reduce the risk of doing poorly at math,” said Stephen Petrill, professor of psychology at Ohio State, and the principal investigator of the study.
“If you have these genetic risk factors for math anxiety and then you have negative experiences in math classes, it may make learning that much harder. It is something we need to account for when we’re considering interventions for those who need help in math.”
Abstract of the research:
Emerging work suggests that academic achievement may be influenced by the management of affect as well as through efficient information processing of task demands. In particular, mathematical anxiety has attracted recent attention because of its damaging psychological effects and potential associations with mathematical problem solving and achievement. This study investigated the genetic and environmental factors contributing to the observed differences in the anxiety people feel when confronted with mathematical tasks. In addition, the genetic and environmental mechanisms that link mathematical anxiety with math cognition and general anxiety were also explored.
Genetic factors accounted for roughly 40% of the variation in mathematical anxiety, with the remaining being accounted for by child-specific environmental factors. Multivariate genetic analyses suggested that mathematical anxiety was influenced by the genetic and nonfamilial environmental risk factors associated with general anxiety and additional independent genetic influences associated with math-based problem solving.
The development of mathematical anxiety may involve not only exposure to negative experiences with mathematics, but also likely involves genetic risks related to both anxiety and math cognition. These results suggest that integrating cognitive and affective domains may be particularly important for mathematics and may extend to other areas of academic achievement.