Math-Failure Associations, Attentional Biases, and Avoidance Bias: The Relationship with Math Anxiety and Behaviour in Adolescents


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Background Math anxiety in adolescence negatively affects learning math and careers. The current study investigated whether three cognitive biases, i.e. math-failure associations, attentional biases (engagement and disengagement), and avoidance bias for math, were related to math anxiety and math behaviour (math grade and math avoidance behaviour). Methods In total, 500 secondary school students performed three cognitive bias tasks, questionnaires and a math performance task, and reported their grades. Results Math-failure associations showed the most consistent associations with the outcome measures. They were associated with higher math anxiety above and beyond sex and education level. Those math-failure associations were also associated with lower grades and more avoidance behaviour, however, not above and beyond math anxiety. Engagement bias and avoidance tendency bias were associated with math avoidance behaviour, though the avoidance bias finding should be interpreted with care given the low reliability of the measure. Disengagement biases were not associated with any math anxiety nor behaviour outcome measure. Conclusions Whereas a more reliable instrument for avoidance bias is necessary for conclusions on the relations with math performance and behaviour, the current results do suggest that math-failure associations, and not attentional bias, may play a role in the maintenance of math anxiety.
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