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For a significant number of students, attitudes towards mathematics decrease notably during secondary education. Thus, there is an urgent need to improve students’ mathematics attitudes because attitudes may negatively affect conceptual understanding of mathematics or mathematics performance. However, without a clear unified construct of mathematics attitudes, the ambiguity surrounding this construct prevents researchers from drawing broad conclusions about how to improve students’ overall mathematics attitudes. Therefore, we conducted a systematic review of 95 studies focused on mathematics attitudes to clarify the construct and measurement of mathematics attitudes, and to provide a holistic picture of the relations between mathematics attitudes and math achievement. The review suggested the adoption of a multidimensional definition that regards mathematics attitudes as a combination of specific mathematical cognitions (value, gender roles/beliefs, confidence, self-concept), affects (enjoyment, anxiety), and behavioural intentions (i.e., willingness and tendency to spend more time learning mathematics subjects). The review then explored the relations between each subdimension of attitudes and mathematics performance. In general, anxiety and gender roles were negatively correlated with mathematics performance (r = -.27 to -.48; -.21) whereas enjoyment, self-concept, confidence, perceived value, and behavioural intentions were positively related to achievement (r = .27 to .68; .21 to .76; .34 to .42; .11 to .30; .21 to .34, respectively). Thus, mathematics attitudes appear to comprise three components with several subdimensions that each uniquely contribute to mathematics achievement. Going forward, researchers of mathematics attitudes should a) specify the components of mathematics attitudes used to guide their investigation b) adopt measures in line with their chosen components, and c) investigate how each subdimension of mathematics attitudes uniquely and cumulatively contribute to mathematics ability.

Mathematics attitudes have long been studied in mathematics education, as ‘attitude’ is considered important for mathematics achievement (

Poor mathematics attitudes matter because they may reflect students’ prior experiences with mathematics (

Despite an existing body of research on the connections between mathematics attitudes and mathematics ability, dimensions of ‘mathematics attitudes’ may need to be better organized under a theoretical framework. Currently, the dimensions of mathematics attitudes being explored include confidence (

Researchers may benefit from a strong theoretical framework that more coherently defines mathematics attitudes as a construct and identifies its unique dimensions. The current lack of a theoretical framework is demonstrated by the explicit but idiosyncratic definitions used across studies, none of which are widely adopted (

Positive mathematics attitudes may improve mathematics achievement (

One of the goals of improving mathematics attitudes is to promote academic achievement, thus the relations between the two phenomena has long been proposed and studied (

According to control-value theory, there are two types of appraisals that may affect achievement emotions (i.e., emotions closely related to achievement) and they are organized temporally, as proximal or distal (

Control-value theory argues that the effects of achievement emotions on students’ performance may be mediated by factors such as motivational behaviours (

To sum up, control-value theory can be used as a theoretical framework to predict the relations among the components of mathematics attitudes and mathematics achievement. From a control-value lens, mathematics attitudes are likely to affect achievement via the cognitive components influencing the affective components, which in turn may trigger different behaviours that lead to changes in mathematics achievement (

Two questions guided a two-phased systematic review: for secondary students, (a) what are the components of mathematics attitudes that predominate the research literature and (b) what is the relation between each component and mathematics achievement? The present review focuses on secondary education because many students start to develop negative mathematics attitudes during the last two years of elementary education (

To answer question (a), ‘math*’ AND ‘attitude* OR view* OR disposition* OR perspective* OR perception* OR perceive*OR think* OR opinion*’ were searched in three databases (PsycINFO, ERIC EBSCO, Scopus), limited to English peer-reviewed articles. Based on these preliminary criteria, the initial search returned 626 articles. After removing duplicates, 584 articles were left for further review. Subsequently, a screening process was conducted. After reviewing titles and abstracts, 134 records were eligible for further review. Articles that did not just mention attitudes, but specifically examined them as part of the empirical work in secondary education (grades 7 to 12), were included for further analysis. If grades were not reported, ages (12 to 18) were used as inclusion criteria. Studies that overlapped with targeted grades or ages (e.g., grade 6-8 or ages 10-15) were also included. Several exclusion criteria were applied: dissertation/conference proceedings; annotated bibliographies; special education; teacher’s/parents’ attitudes towards mathematics; a focus solely on non-targeted students (such as elementary students, university students, and adults). After a full-text analysis of these 134 studies, 95 studies meeting the criteria were included in the review (see

Among 95 articles, only 20 clearly stated their definition of mathematics attitudes, while the remaining articles did not define the term at all. ^{1}

All references to emotions in this review are trait emotions (or habitual emotions) rather than state (or transitory) emotions.

and beliefs), or multidimensional definitions (affective, cognitive, and behavioural components, e. g., emotions, beliefs, and behaviours). However, there has been no review to examine if these three types of definitions are adopted within and across studies of mathematics attitudes. Thus, a three-type definition framework was adopted to guide the organization of studies. Findings revealed that most of the studies could be classified into Zan and Di Martino’s three categories, except one study from the bidimensional category that defined attitudes from affective and behavioural perspective (seeTypes of Definition | Aspects of Attitudes | Examples of Definitions | Citation | |
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7 | Unidimensional definition | Affective components | “the emotional tendencies developed by individuals” | ( |

“a general emotional disposition toward the school subject” | ( |
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“a positive or negative response towards mathematics that is relatively stable, similar to what some might call dispositions” | ( |
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“one's general feeling of favor or otherwise toward some stimulus objects” | ( |
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“someone’s basic liking or disliking of a familiar target” | ( |
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“individual’s like or dislike toward mathematics” | ( |
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“predisposition to respond favourably or unfavourably to mathematics” | ( |
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6 | Bi-dimensional definition | Affective & cognitive components | “the sum total of a man’s inclinations, feelings, prejudice or bias, preconceived notions, ideas, fears, threats and conviction about any topic” | ( |

“an aggregated measure of mathematics self-confidence, perceived usefulness, and enjoyment of mathematics” | ( |
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“either positive or negative responses, in terms of importance, difficulty, and enjoyment” | ( |
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“a person’s disposition towards a subject, beliefs a person held about that subject” | ( |
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“the result of highly interdependent aspects of beliefs and emotions” | ( |
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Affective & behavioural components | “emotional disposition towards mathematics, such as a positive or negative response towards mathematics, or a liking or disliking of mathematics, or a tendency to engage or avoid mathematical activities” | ( |
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7 | Multidimensional definition | Affective, cognitive & behavioural components | “A persons’ attitude to an idea or object determines what the person thinks, feels and how the person would like to behave towards that idea or objects” | ( |

“emotional reaction to an object, behavior tendency towards an object and beliefs about the object” | ( |
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“a mental, emotional and behavioural reactionary predisposition a person develops toward mathematics”. | ( |
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“an aggregated measure of a liking or disliking of mathematics, a tendency to engage in or avoid mathematical activities, a belief that one is good or bad at mathematics, and a belief that mathematics is useful or useless” | ( |
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“attitudes consist of cognitive, affective and behavioural reactions that individuals display towards an object or the surrounding based on their feelings or interest” | ( |
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“a liking or disliking of mathematics, a tendency to engage in or avoid mathematical activities, a belief that one is good or bad at mathematics, and a belief that mathematics is useful or useless” | ( |
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“a tendency attributed to the individual and regularly constitutes his/her thoughts, feelings and behaviours related to the psychological incident” | ( |

Seven articles used unidimensional definitions, all of which referred to emotional dispositions towards mathematics. Two of these studies defined mathematics attitudes as “general emotional disposition toward the school subject” (

Six articles used bi-dimensional definitions, all acknowledging the importance of affects. Five articles suggested that mathematics attitudes are the combination of affects and beliefs towards the subject (

Seven articles used multidimensional definitions, which treated mathematics attitudes as consisting of three dimensions: cognitive (the knowledge of mathematics, ideas and beliefs towards mathematics), affective (feelings associate with mathematics) and behavioural (actions towards mathematics) (

Given that there are three approaches to define mathematics attitudes, one may wonder which approach is the most suitable for studying mathematics attitudes. Unlike the other two definitions, the multidimensional definition is supported by a theoretical framework—the tripartite model of attitudes (

Having adopted the multidimensional definition, the next step is to identify how the specific components of affect, cognition, and behaviour are most commonly measured. Doing so will further clarify what each dimension of mathematics attitudes is actually being assessed. This was achieved through a systematic analysis of the mathematics attitudes measurement tools used in the identified 95 studies.

There are three commonly used techniques to measure mathematics attitudes (

Techniques | Number of Studies | |
---|---|---|

Observations | 0 | |

Essay Writing | 1 | |

Interviews | 4 | |

Self-reported Methods (Scales) | 90 | |

Cited in 95 Studies Reviewed | Used in 95 Studies Reviewed | |

Fennema-Sherman Mathematics Attitudes Scales (FSMAS) | 39 | 10 |

Aiken’s Math Attitude Scale | 31 | 4 |

Attitudes Toward Mathematics Inventory (ATMI) | 10 | 6 |

The Mathematics Attitude Scale | 5 | 3 |

Sandman’s Mathematics Attitude Inventory (MAI) | 5 | 2 |

Modified scales | 1 | 34 |

Self-developed scales | NA | 24 |

No specific measure described or identified | NA | 7 |

For the 90 studies using self-reports, the specific instruments, latent variables, reliability, and citation were documented (see

Name | Cognitive Components | Affective Components | Behavioural Components | Type of Scale | Used in Studies Reviewed |
---|---|---|---|---|---|

FSMAS | Confidence (9)^{b}, |
Anxiety (3), |
Bi-dimensional | 10 | |

ATMI | Confidence (5), |
Enjoyment (6), |
Bi-dimensional | 6 | |

Aiken’s Math Attitude Scale | Value (4) | Enjoyment (4) | Bi-dimensional | 4 | |

The Mathematics Attitude Scale | Enjoyment (3) | Unidimensional | 3 | ||

MAI | Perception of math teacher (2), |
Anxiety (2), |
Bi-dimensional | 2 | |

Modified Scales | Value (18), |
Enjoyment (16), |
Behavioural Intentions (4) | Multidimensional | 34 |

Self-developed Scales | Value (13), |
Enjoyment (13), |
Behavioural Intentions (7), |
Multidimensional | 24 |

No specific measure described or identified | 7 |

^{a}The number of studies in the review that used a given scale as a measurement tool. ^{b}The number of studies in the review that adopted each component.

Fennema-Sherman Mathematics Attitudes Scale (FSMAS) was one of the most popular scales in this review, with 39 articles out of 95 citing it and 10 studies applying it. FSMAS was initially designed to explore gender differences in mathematics learning and other factors that influence the selection of mathematics courses (

The Attitudes Toward Mathematics Inventory (ATMI) developed by

Aiken’s math attitude scale was cited by 31 studies in this review but only four used it to measure mathematics attitudes. Aiken’s math attitude scale is a bi-dimensional scale, which only contains enjoyment as the affective component and value of mathematics as the cognitive component. In this review, all four studies that adopted Aiken’s math attitude scale applied both enjoyment and value components.

The Mathematics Attitude Scale developed by

Sandman’s mathematics attitude inventory (MAI) was cited by 5 studies and applied by 2. It is designed to measure students’ mathematics attitudes from Grade 7 to Grade 12 (

Surprisingly, 7% of the studies in this review did not provide any information about the measures they used, but still reported an increase or decrease in student’s mathematics attitudes. While it may be possible to contact the authors for more details and infer the theoretical approach by applying an item-by-item analyses of the measures, it is critical for researchers to specify the measures used in the study so that future work can meaningfully compare their results against other studies.

Approximately 36% of studies adapted existing measures (

Approximately 25% of the studies used self-developed measures (

In general, 58 measures identified in this review were either self-developed or adapted from literature. This lack of agreement may represent the numerous facets of “attitudes” that researchers deem worthy of study. Even for scales commonly cited in the literature (e.g., Fennema-Sherman Mathematics Attitudes Scale and Aiken’s Mathematics Attitude Scale), even fewer studies actually used them; suggesting these scales may fail to represent researchers’ view of mathematics attitudes. Thus, there is a need to clarify the facets of mathematics attitudes and identify the dominant components of attitudes found in the literature. Based on the frequency of components used in this systematic review (see

Cognitive Components | Affective Components | Behavioural Components |
---|---|---|

Value (49)^{a} |
Enjoyment (44) |
Behavioural intentions (11) |

^{a}The numbers in parentheses represent the number of citations in this review.

There are three aspects to mathematics attitudes in the tripartite construct of mathematics attitudes: cognitive, affective, and behavioural. For the cognitive aspect, value of mathematics, confidence in solving mathematical problems, gender role beliefs in learning mathematics, and self-concept of mathematics were the most cited components. Among the 90 studies that used self-reports in this systematic review, each cognitive component was reported in 54%, 33%, 22%, and 17% of the studies respectively. Importantly, confidence (or self-efficacy) and self-concept (sometimes called self-beliefs, self-evaluation) are very similar terms, with one measuring the degree to which students believe they can handle mathematics’ difficulties and get good outcomes while the other measures one’s perception of themselves with mathematics. One example item for confidence is “I can get good grades in mathematics” (

Other components such as perception of parents’/teachers’ attitudes and motivation were also frequently used in different studies but were excluded due to the overlap with other components. Perception of parents’ and teachers’ attitudes was used in 14 studies out of 95. We agree with the importance of both parents’ and teachers’ attitudes in affecting students’ mathematics attitudes and corresponding performance (

Having clarified the subdimensions and constructs of mathematics attitudes in Phase 1, we will unpack the relations between mathematics achievement and each component of mathematics attitudes. Theoretically, the relations among components in mathematics attitudes and mathematics achievement can be organized based on control-value theory. For instance, cognitive components of mathematics attitudes such as value, confidence, self-concept, and gender roles line up with control-value theory’ appraisal factors, while the behavioural component fits the motivational strategy (either seeking or avoiding the task). Affective components such as enjoyment and anxiety align with achievement emotions, and link cognitive and behavioural components as a whole (see

For the relations between each component in mathematics attitudes and mathematics performance, keywords were searched together (e.g., value*, gender* OR stereotype*, confidence*, self-concept*, enjoy*, anxi*, engag* AND “math* AND performance* OR achievement* OR grade* OR score* OR success”). Snowball sampling and forward citing techniques were also applied to add articles. The same exclusion criteria used in Phase 1 of the study was applied when reading abstracts. Finally, 41 research studies were identified and reviewed in total (see

Based on the result of the review,

Generally, having strong gender roles/beliefs/stereotypes makes students regard mathematics as a male dominated subject (

Both control-value theory and empirical studies indicated that internalized gender roles may affect students’ mathematics achievement (

Perceived value measures how much importance students place on mathematics. Control-value theory suggests that student’s value appraisals affect their achievement emotions and further affect motivational behaviour and academic achievement (

Confidence in mathematics is the degree to which students believe they can handle mathematics’ difficulties and get good outcomes. Based on control-value theory, confidence is supposed to affect achievement through influencing achievement emotions and motivation (

Self-concept is one’s perception of themselves in a certain environment (

Control-value theory implies that achievement emotions like enjoyment and anxiety are affected by students’ gender and appraisals of their value, self-concept, and confidence (

Math anxiety is a negative feeling combined with fear and tension when dealing with mathematical problems (

Behavioural intentions measure students’ action or potential behaviours towards mathematics. An example item is “I think about mathematics problems outside school and like to work them out” (

The theoretical framework suggests that cognitive factors have an impact on affective factors, which further influence learning behaviours and academic achievement. However, empirical evidence only supported some of these relationships. Overall, this may be due to researchers only examining the direct effect of each attitude’s component on mathematics achievement, while ignoring many mediating effects. The direct relationships identified in this review showed that, in general, anxiety and gender role beliefs were negatively correlated with mathematics performance (

Research has explored many dimensions of mathematics attitudes but has not generated wide-reaching conclusions. We argue this is due to the lack of a theoretical framework for the construct of mathematics attitudes (

With the guidance of a tripartite construct of mathematics attitudes, educators and researchers may more purposefully study which components of attitudes decrease in secondary education and which ones need to be improved. Improving mathematics attitudes not only entails increasing students’ confidence in mathematics, but also involves improving students’ self-perceptions with mathematics, finding utility in mathematics, improving learning experience with mathematics, and increasing the likelihood of engaging in more mathematics-related activities.

Though our tripartite construct of mathematics attitudes represents the most commonly measured components of mathematics attitudes in research with secondary students, some of the components largely overlap with what has been studied in other age levels. Articles on children’s mathematics attitudes, which were excluded from this review, suggest that value, confidence, gender roles, enjoyment, and anxiety are also commonly investigated among children (

Despite the common aspects of mathematics attitudes across different age levels, some components may be more age specific. Articles with children explore a broader range of emotions rather than focusing on enjoyment and anxiety. For instance, some studies measure how much children worry about their performance in mathematics (

Studies on mathematics attitudes should not only focus on components in the tripartite construct, but also need to take other influencing factors into consideration. For example, factors excluded from this review (e.g., parents’/teachers’ values and attitudes) may not be appropriate and accurate to represent students’ own attitudes, but these factors play an important role in affecting children’s attitudes (

Research on the relations among mathematics attitudes and mathematics achievement were overly linear and unclear, due to lacking a theoretical framework and an inappropriate use of instruments (

The relations between mathematics anxiety and mathematics achievement in this review showed a negative linear correlation (

For future work on mathematics attitudes, researchers should clearly specify the components of attitudes being explored, as this will allow others to interpret the relation between attitudes and achievement or the relations amongst each component of mathematics attitudes. Further, studies on the relations between mathematics attitudes and mathematics achievement should not only explore how each component of mathematics attitudes contributes to mathematics ability but also explore the mediating role of each component and their combinatorial contributions to mathematics achievement. As our review focuses solely on secondary education, future work is needed to systematically test whether the components in our construct of mathematics attitudes for secondary students are suitable for the study of children and adults.

Name of Scale | Cognitive Components | Affective Components | Behavioural Components | Reliability (coefficient α) | Number of Studies | Citation |
---|---|---|---|---|---|---|

Fennema-Sherman Mathematics attitudes Scales (FSMAS) | Confidence (9)^{a}, |
Anxiety (3), |
NA; |
10 | ||

Attitudes Toward Mathematics Inventory (ATMI) (by |
Confidence (5), |
Enjoyment (6), |
.88-.95; |
6 | ||

Aiken’s Math Attitude Scale | Value (4) | Enjoyment (4) | .87-.93; |
4 | ||

The Mathematics Attitude Scale developed by Aşkar (1986) | Enjoyment (3) | .93; |
3 | |||

Sandman’s Mathematics Attitude Inventory (MAI) | Perception of math teacher (2), |
Anxiety (2), |
.68-.89 | 2 | ||

Mixed | Value (3), |
Enjoyment (2) | Behavioural intentions (1) | .58-.60; |
3 | |

Not Clear | 7 | |||||

Modified from previous literature | Value (9) |
Enjoyment (8) |
Behavioural intentions (3) | .64; |
23 | |

PISA 2012/2005 | Self-concept (2) | NA; |
2 | |||

TIMSS 2007/2011/1990-2007/2009/2003/ | Value (6), |
Enjoyment (6) | NA |
6 | ||

Self-developed | Value (13), |
Enjoyment (13), |
Behavioural intentions (7); |
NA; |
24 |

^{a}The number in the brackets following each component represents the frequency of that component being applied.

Citations | Cognitive Components | Affective Components | Behavioural Components | Type of Scale |
---|---|---|---|---|

Confidence |
Anxiety | Bi-dimensional | ||

Confidence |
Uni-dimensional | |||

Anxiety | Uni-dimensional | |||

Value |
Worry | Bi-dimensional | ||

Value |
Enjoyment |
Behavioural Intentions | Multidimensional | |

Value | Enjoyment | Bi-dimensional | ||

Worry |
Uni-dimensional | |||

Value |
enjoyment | Behavioural Intentions | Multidimensional | |

Perceived difficulty |
Enjoyment (likability) | Bi-dimensional |

Citations | Cognitive Components | Affective Components | Behavioural Components | Type of Scale |
---|---|---|---|---|

Confidence | Enjoyment | Bi-dimensional | ||

Confidence |
Behavioural Intentions | Bi-dimensional | ||

Confidence | Anxiety | Bi-dimensional | ||

Nature of statistics |
Behavioural Intentions | Bi-dimensional | ||

Value |
Enjoyment |
Behavioural Intentions | Multidimensional | |

Perceived difficulty |
Uni-dimensional | |||

Value | Enjoyment | Bi-dimensional |

The authors have no funding to report.

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

The authors have no additional (i.e., non-financial) support to report.