Fearing the Greeks: the influence of mathematical notation on anxiety in a cross-cultural sample

Lindsay, Daniel, and Swinbourne, Anne (2013) Fearing the Greeks: the influence of mathematical notation on anxiety in a cross-cultural sample. In: Abstracts from the 34th Stress and Anxiety Research Society Conference. From: STAR 2013: 34th Stress and Anxiety Research Society Conference, 1-3 July 2013, Faro, Portugal. (Unpublished)

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Objectives: Individuals often claim that mathematical formulas and symbols are an unfamiliar or foreign language. Inability to work out what symbols mean and how they work in a formula often leads to mathematical anxiety and poorer mathematical performance. The current study investigated the relationship between mathematical anxiety and time required to process various symbols.

Methods: 116 students (53 Australians, 63 Singaporeans) in an introductory statistics subject completed a computer-based reaction-time mathematical test as well as a questionnaire assessing demographics and maths anxiety. In this reaction-time test, participants were shown different mathematical equations with one entity missing. The missing entity was replaced by a Greek letter, a punctuation mark or English letters. Participants were required to calculate the value of the missing entity and time to do this was assessed.

Results: Australian participants showed significantly slower reaction times when Greek letters were used to represent the entity compared to all other symbols. Singaporeans showed no significant differences in reaction time to any of the symbols. Mathematics anxiety was moderately related to reaction time for the Australian but not Singaporean students.

Conclusions: Differences in reaction time to different symbols for the Australian students may reflect a lack of familiarity with the symbols or a lack of experience learning new symbolic relationships. The Singaporean students were all native Chinese speakers who had been educated in English language schools, thus having experience in learning new symbolic relationships. The results are further interpreted in light of their importance for the teaching of mathematics and statistics.

Item ID: 31204
Item Type: Conference Item (Presentation)
Related URLs:
Date Deposited: 22 Apr 2014 02:31
FoR Codes: 01 MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES > 0104 Statistics > 010401 Applied Statistics @ 80%
17 PSYCHOLOGY AND COGNITIVE SCIENCES > 1702 Cognitive Science > 170201 Computer Perception, Memory and Attention @ 20%
SEO Codes: 93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9301 Learner and Learning > 930102 Learner and Learning Processes @ 100%
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