A meta-analysis of the relation between math anxiety and math achievement

Psychol Bull. 2021 Feb;147(2):134-168. doi: 10.1037/bul0000307. Epub 2020 Oct 29.


Meta-analyses from the 1990s previously have established a significant, small-to-moderate, and negative correlation between math achievement and math anxiety. Since these publications, research has continued to investigate this relation with more diverse samples and measures. Thus, the goal of the present meta-analysis was to provide an update of the math anxiety-math achievement relation and its moderators. Analyzing 747 effect sizes accumulated from research conducted between 1992 and 2018, we found a small-to-moderate, negative, and statistically significant correlation (r = -.28) between math anxiety and math achievement. The relation was significant for all moderator subgroups, with the exception of the relation between math anxiety and assessments measuring the approximate number system. Grade level, math ability level, adolescent/adult math anxiety scales, math topic of anxiety scale, and math assessments were significant moderators of this relation. There is also a tendency for published studies to report significantly stronger correlations than unpublished studies, but overall, large, negative effect sizes are underreported. Our results are consistent with previous findings of a significant relation between math anxiety and math achievement. This association starts in childhood, remains significant through adulthood, is smaller for students in Grades 3 through 5 and postsecondary school, is larger for math anxiety than for statistics anxiety and for certain math anxiety scales, and is smaller for math exam grades and samples selected for low math ability. This work supports future research efforts to determine effective math achievement and math anxiety interventions, which may be most helpful to implement during childhood. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Achievement*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mathematics / education*
  • Students / psychology*
  • Students / statistics & numerical data