Mathematics anxiety and learned helplessness

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Arts (D.A.)

First Committee Member

Gilbert Cuevas, Committee Chair

Second Committee Member

Marvin Mielke, Committee Member

Third Committee Member

Robert L. Kelley, Committee Member


Two factors that have been shown to interfere with the learning of mathematics are mathematics anxiety and learned helplessness. Mathematics Anxiety is a negative emotional state associated with low mathematical achievement. Learned helplessness is a response to uncontrollable adverse stimulus that leads to motivational and cognitive deficits. This study explores the relationship between these two phenomena.In the first phase of this study, respondents were separated into four attributional styles. Categories A1, A2, A3 and A4 consisted of the respondents who tend to attribute failure in mathematics to lack of effort, environmental factors, task difficulty and lack of ability respectively. Attribution Theory tells us that the likelihood that a respondent would experience a helplessness response increases as the index increases. It was therefore predicted that the mean mathematics anxiety score of each of these categories would also increase as the index increases. This study demonstrated this up to the limitations of the data. Nothing could be inferred about category A2, because too few respondents fell into that category, but otherwise the mean anxiety score of each category showed a statistically significant increase coinciding with the known increased likelihood of a helplessness response.In the second phase of this study, students were exposed to an intervention consisting of several methods known to alleviate or prevent helplessness responses. Here it was predicted that the mathematics anxiety score, a would decrease significantly between a pre-intervention survey and a post-intervention survey. This did not happen. However, the mean value of a of the comparison group increased significantly between the pre-intervention survey and the post-intervention survey. This may indicate that the intervention prevented a normal increase of mathematics anxiety for the experimental group.


Education, Mathematics; Education, Educational Psychology

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