Paula A. Maldonado Moscoso, Elisa Castaldi, Roberto Arrighi, Caterina Primi, Camilla Caponi, Salvatore Buonincontro, Francesca Bolognini, Giovanni Anobile

Mathematics and numerosity but not visuo-spatial working memory correlate with math-anxiety in young adults

Brain Sci. 2022 Apr; 12(4): 422

https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci12040422 Download

Many individuals, when faced with mathematical tasks or situations requiring arithmetic skills, experience exaggerated levels of anxiety. Mathematical anxiety (MA), in addition to causing discomfort, can lead to avoidance behaviors and then to underachievement. However, the factors inducing MA and how MA deploys its detrimental effects are still largely debated. There is evidence suggesting that MA affects working memory capacity by further diminishing its limited processing resources. An alternative account postulates that MA originates from a coarse early numerical cognition capacity, the perception of numerosity. In the current study, we measured MA, math abilities, numerosity perception and visuo-spatial working memory (VSWM) in a sample of neurotypical adults. Correlational analyses confirmed previous studies showing that high MA was associated with lower math scores and worse numerosity estimation precision. Conversely, MA turned out to be unrelated to VSWM capacities. Finally, partial correlations revealed that MA fully accounted for the relationship between numerosity estimation precision and math abilities, suggesting a key role for MA as a mediating factor between these two domains.