Is Math Anxiety Always Bad for Math Learning? The Role of Math Motivation

Zhe Wang, Sarah L. Lukowski, Sara A. Hart, Ian M. Lyons, Lee A. Thompson, Yulia Kovas, Michèle M.M. Mazzocco, Robert Plomin, Stephen A. Petrill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

109 Scopus citations


The linear relations between math anxiety and math cognition have been frequently studied. However, the relations between anxiety and performance on complex cognitive tasks have been repeatedly demonstrated to follow a curvilinear fashion. In the current studies, we aimed to address the lack of attention given to the possibility of such complex interplay between emotion and cognition in the math-learning literature by exploring the relations among math anxiety, math motivation, and math cognition. In two samples—young adolescent twins and adult college students—results showed inverted-U relations between math anxiety and math performance in participants with high intrinsic math motivation and modest negative associations between math anxiety and math performance in participants with low intrinsic math motivation. However, this pattern was not observed in tasks assessing participants’ nonsymbolic and symbolic number-estimation ability. These findings may help advance the understanding of mathematics-learning processes and provide important insights for treatment programs that target improving mathematics-learning experiences and mathematical skills.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1863-1876
Number of pages14
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Grants HD038075, HD059215, and HD075460. S. L. Lukowski was also supported by National Science Foundation Grant DGE-1343012 during the preparation of this manuscript. The results reflect the views of the authors and not those of the funding agencies.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, © The Author(s) 2015.


  • Yerkes-Dodson law
  • math anxiety
  • math cognition
  • math motivation


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