Does maths anxiety make people bad decision-makers? The link between mathematical anxiety and cognitive reflection.

Kinga MorsanyiQueen's University Belfast
Chiara BusdraghiUniversity of Florence
Caterina PrimiUniversity of Florence

Abstract

When asked to solve mathematical problems, some people experience anxiety and threat, which can lead to impaired maths performance. The present studies investigated the link between maths anxiety and performance on the cognitive reflection test (CRT). The CRT is a measure of a person’s ability to resist intuitive response tendencies, and it correlates strongly with important real-life outcomes, such as time preferences, risk-taking, and rational thinking. Experiment 1 demonstrated that mathematical anxiety was a significant predictor of cognitive reflection, even after controlling for the effects of mathematical knowledge and test anxiety. In Experiment 2 both working memory load and mathematical anxiety were associated with lower levels of cognitive reflection. A potential explanation is that maths anxiety is linked to lower levels of cognitive reflection, because anxious thoughts burden working memory resources. Given earlier findings that showed a close link between cognitive reflection, unbiased decisions and rationality, our results suggest that mathematical anxiety might be negatively related to individuals’ ability to make advantageous choices and good decisions.

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