The role of expressive writing in math anxiety

J Exp Psychol Appl. 2014 Jun;20(2):103-11. doi: 10.1037/xap0000013. Epub 2014 Apr 7.


Math anxiety is a negative affective reaction to situations involving math. Previous work demonstrates that math anxiety can negatively impact math problem solving by creating performance-related worries that disrupt the working memory needed for the task at hand. By leveraging knowledge about the mechanism underlying the math anxiety-performance relationship, we tested the effectiveness of a short expressive writing intervention that has been shown to reduce intrusive thoughts and improve working memory availability. Students (N = 80) varying in math anxiety were asked to sit quietly (control group) prior to completing difficulty-matched math and word problems or to write about their thoughts and feelings regarding the exam they were about to take (expressive writing group). For the control group, high math-anxious individuals (HMAs) performed significantly worse on the math problems than low math-anxious students (LMAs). In the expressive writing group, however, this difference in math performance across HMAs and LMAs was significantly reduced. Among HMAs, the use of words related to anxiety, cause, and insight in their writing was positively related to math performance. Expressive writing boosts the performance of anxious students in math-testing situations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety*
  • Humans
  • Mathematics*
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Problem Solving
  • Students / psychology
  • Test Taking Skills / psychology*
  • Universities
  • Writing*
  • Young Adult