Math anxiety (MA) and math performance are generally negatively correlated (Barroso et al., 2021; Namkung et al., 2019). However, the mechanisms underlying this negative association remain unclear. According to the attentional control theory (ACT; Eysenck et al., 2007), anxious individuals experience impaired attentional control during problem solving, which compromises their performance on cognitive tasks. In a sample of 168 elementary and middle school students, the current study used an eye-tracking approach to investigate whether math-anxious students exhibit deficits in their attentional control during a math problem solving task and whether such attentional control deficits account for the negative association between MA and performance on this math task. Consistent with the ACT, we found that students with higher MA were more likely to engage attention to both task-relevant and task-irrelevant distractors during problem solving, and their enhanced attention to these distractors was associated with their impaired performance on the math task. These findings suggest that the MA-related math performance deficit is partly mediated by impaired attentional control, which is indicated by the maladaptive attentional bias toward distracting information during math problem solving.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Developmental and Educational Psychology