The relationships among working memory, math anxiety, and performance

J Exp Psychol Gen. 2001 Jun;130(2):224-37. doi: 10.1037//0096-3445.130.2.224.


Individuals with high math anxiety demonstrated smaller working memory spans, especially when assessed with a computation-based span task. This reduced working memory capacity led to a pronounced increase in reaction time and errors when mental addition was performed concurrently with a memory load task. The effects of the reduction also generalized to a working memory-intensive transformation task. Overall, the results demonstrated that an individual difference variable, math anxiety, affects on-line performance in math-related tasks and that this effect is a transitory disruption of working memory. The authors consider a possible mechanism underlying this effect--disruption of central executive processes--and suggest that individual difference variables like math anxiety deserve greater empirical attention, especially on assessments of working memory capacity and functioning.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Educational Status*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Individuality*
  • Male
  • Mathematics*
  • Mental Recall*
  • Problem Solving
  • Reaction Time