Perceived challenges and threats in math settings: investigating the effects of cognitive reappraisal instructions on math anxiety
It’s widely accepted in all cultures and educational systems around the world that math anxiety negatively impacts people’s lives. However, anxiety is not always negative. When stress increases, “fight or flight” reaction is triggered to prepare our body’s response to a challenge or threat. Once you learn how stress responses can be used as an adaptive tool, it provides the student with ambition and motivation on the road to success. According to laboratory studies, cognitive reappraisal interventions can help students to alter their negative thoughts about anxiety. It can even improve students’ math performance by reducing math anxiety. In this study, I investigated whether cognitive reappraisal interventions applied before the mathematics exams affect students’ mathematics anxiety, perceived coping resources and academic performance. Forty undergraduate students from social sciences department of a non-profit private university in Turkey participated. In the pretest, students completed questionnaires about math anxiety and stress appraisals before Math Exam-1. In the posttest, students were randomly assigned to two conditions: treatment or control. While students in the treatment group (n = 26) were taught how stress can be used as an adaptive tool by focusing on its positive effects (cognitive reappraisal), students in the control group (n = 14) were asked to ignore stress. I found that while math exam anxiety was reduced in the treatment group, it increased in the control group, but this difference wasn’t statistically significant. No effect on students’ coping resources and academic achievement found. Limitations and implications for further research are discussed.