^{1}

^{2}

^{2}

^{1}

The experience of math anxiety can have detrimental effects on students’ math performance, and researchers have in recent years tried to design interventions aiming at reducing math anxiety. This meta-analysis aimed to examine the effectiveness of math anxiety interventions in reducing math anxiety and improving math performance. The meta-analysis comprised 50 studies and included 75 effect sizes. On average, the effect sizes were moderate (g = -0.467) for reducing math anxiety and improving math performance (g = 0.502). Interventions that focused on Cognitive support or regulating Emotions were effective both in reducing math anxiety and improving math performance. In addition, longer interventions and interventions targeting students older than 12 had the biggest decrease in math anxiety. Study quality was not related to intervention outcomes.

MA has been identified as a form of anxiety that occurs when a person is asked to think about or complete a math task, which in turn causes a negative physical-emotional reaction (

Three different theoretical accounts have been put forward to explain the link between math anxiety and math performance. The first is the

In previous research, three main categories can be distinguished that are often used by researchers to manipulate or reduce math anxiety: 1) Motivation, 2) Emotion, and 3) Cognitive support. The first category focuses on interventions attempting to increase the participants’ motivation, for example, by offering different or exciting learning opportunities or by including feedback or other motivating elements in their learning. Two theories are usually mentioned in the context of motivational processes in mathematics learning: 1)

The second category includes interventions aiming to reduce math anxiety by affecting the participants’ emotions toward math. This is achieved through regulating or changing participants’ emotions by implementing therapy, relaxation exercises, writing exercises, etc. Positive emotions, such as enjoyment and pride, are often associated with greater interest and achievement in math, while negative emotions can lead to more restricted cognitive and behavioral responses, e.g., issues with problem-solving and thinking processes (

The third and final category consists of interventions that focus on decreasing math anxiety by providing cognitive support. The category draws on the findings that cognitive resources such as working memory, problem-solving and executive functioning are prerequisites for expanding the acquisition of math facts, and number sense – crucial in the context of math development and learning (

Research has shown that math anxiety tends to increase with age (

A handful of reviews and one meta-analysis have analyzed the impact of math anxiety-interventions on math anxiety.

No previous meta-analysis has systematically synthesized all published interventions aimed at reducing math anxiety.

Thus, in a meta-analysis, the present study aimed to advance the current knowledge base by synthesizing the existing research on interventions that aim to reduce math anxiety. It is recommended that study quality should be a vital part of a meta-analysis, it helps explain heterogeneity across observed effect sizes and enables a more accurate determination of the weighted mean effect size across replication studies (

The present meta-analysis followed

“

AND

“

AND

“

We then included search criteria to help us locate studies that we needed for the analysis.

Peer-reviewed studies, published in academic journals, written in English, published before the end of March 2021, and aimed to reduce math anxiety were included. No study was excluded based on the outcome.

Intervention studies with and without control groups were included, accompanied by at least means and standard deviations, allowing us to calculate standardized mean effects.

However, studies of math anxiety with no intention to reduce math anxiety and those focused on reducing anxiety in other domains were excluded. Studies that only explored how math performance was enhanced were also excluded.

For Research Questions I and II we extracted information on sample sizes, means and standard deviations for both math anxiety and math performance measures. We analyzed posttest scores for control- and treatment groups, but for studies with only one group, we treated pretest scores as the control. These were used to calculate the standardized mean difference. Further, for our moderation analyses (Research Question III) we also collected information on sample characteristics, such as mean age, and on intervention characteristics, such as intervention theme and length. Articles reporting interventions that were arranged once and lasted no longer than one day were considered Short. Articles with interventions that lasted more than a day but not longer than three weeks were considered Medium. The final category, Long, consisted of interventions with a duration of longer than three weeks. By coding each article independently, and then assessing the results together, we wanted to reduce the risk of biased treatment. Disagreements were discussed and evaluated by authors ES and JF, and co-authors (BJ and JK) were consulted when necessary. See Table S1 in the

All included articles were read in full text and evaluated using EPHPP (

Our search resulted in a final sample of 1686 studies which were screened by authors ES and JF. An additional study, which was found by one of the authors through his research network, was added to the search. After screening the 1687 abstracts, a sample of 91 articles remained. An interrater reliability measure proved substantial agreement between the authors' ES and JF (

91 articles underwent a full-text assessment. Articles that did not meet our chosen inclusion criteria or failed to contribute with the statistical measures needed for the analyses, were excluded. ES and JF agreed upon a total of 50 studies that were included for the final analyses (

Concerning study quality, authors (ES and JF) analyzed each article individually and agreed upon a final rating for each article. Disagreements between the authors were resolved by consulting co-authors BJ and JK.

To answer our three research questions, how math anxiety interventions can reduce math anxiety and increase math performance, it was decided to investigate math anxiety and math performance separately. We conducted Cochran’s Q test, which is a test to determine heterogeneity in a meta-analysis. Q tests were significant (

We decided to evaluate publication bias by implementing two methods: A funnel plot and Egger’s test. A funnel plot gives a demonstrative view of all the effect sizes in the data and reveals publication bias in the study (

To assess the effectiveness of the interventions on participants’ math anxiety (RQ1), we calculated the mean of our 75 effect sizes from our 50 studies, including a total sample size of 9,125 participants. The pooled interventions resulted in a significant standardized mean difference (

To assess the effectiveness of the interventions on participants’ math performance (RQ2), we calculated the mean of 41 effect sizes from 30 studies, including a total sample size of 6,097 participants. We found a significant mean standardized effect size of

Subcategory | SMD | 95% CI |
^{2} |
Between group statistics |
|||
---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|

Q | |||||||

^{a} |
75 | -0.467 | -0.616 | -0.318 | 0.170 | ||

Age | 10.35 | .001 | |||||

Child ≤ 12 year | 26 | -0.218 | -0.373 | -0.063 | 0.065 | ||

Child > 12 year | 49 | -0.636 | -0.848 | -0.423 | 0.261 | ||

Intervention category | 2.34 | .311 | |||||

Motivation | 15 | -0.251 | -0.595 | 0.094 | 0.115 | ||

Emotion | 36 | -0.523 | -0.778 | -0.268 | 0.189 | ||

Cognitive support | 24 | -0.525 | -0.732 | -0.318 | 0.162 | ||

Intervention length^{b} |
8.88 | .012 | |||||

Short | 22 | -0.207 | -0.362 | -0.052 | 0.061 | ||

Medium | 16 | -0.488 | -0.767 | -0.209 | 0.213 | ||

Long | 37 | -0.617 | -0.885 | -0.350 | 0.203 | ||

EPHPP | 1.87 | .393 | |||||

Strong | 5 | -0.512 | -1.717 | 0.694 | 0.113 | ||

Medium | 61 | -0.422 | -0.581 | -0.264 | 0.169 | ||

Poor | 9 | -0.713 | -1.169 | -0.256 | 0.252 |

^{a}Estimated with a random effects model. ^{b}Short = intervention completed within 1 day; medium = intervention completed within 3 weeks; long = intervention longer than 3 weeks.

Subcategory | SMD | 95% CI |
^{2} |
Between group statistics |
|||
---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|

Q | |||||||

^{a} |
41 | 0.502 | 0.216 | 0.787 | 0.280 | ||

Age | 1.020 | 0.313 | |||||

Child ≤ 12 year | 22 | 0.384 | -0.067 | 0.835 | 0.243 | ||

Child > 12 year | 19 | 0.656 | 0.321 | 0.990 | 0.363 | ||

Intervention category | 2.28 | 0.319 | |||||

Motivation | 10 | 0.200 | -0.290 | 0.690 | 0.144 | ||

Emotion | 19 | 0.368 | 0.074 | 0.662 | 0.084 | ||

Cognitive support | 12 | 0.823 | 0.051 | 1.594 | 0.882 | ||

Intervention length^{b} |
1.840 | 0.399 | |||||

Short | 13 | 0.240 | -0.081 | 0.561 | 0.066 | ||

Medium | 9 | 0.750 | -0.366 | 1.867 | 1.091 | ||

Long | 19 | 0.469 | 0.156 | 0.782 | 0.123 | ||

EPHPP | 0.150 | 0.928 | |||||

Strong | 3 | 0.696 | -1.842 | 3.235 | 0.089 | ||

Medium | 35 | 0.468 | 0.158 | 0.779 | 0.332 | ||

Poor | 3 | 0.543 | -2.067 | 3.153 | 0.679 |

^{a}Estimated with a random effects model. ^{b}Short = intervention completed within 1 day; medium = intervention completed within 3 weeks; long = intervention longer than 3 weeks.

Age was coded into one of two categories: 1) younger than 12, or 2) older than 12. In both age categories, there was a significant effect of intervention on math anxiety, younger than 12 was associated with a small effect size,

For math performance, results showed a moderate significant effect of intervention on math performance in older students,

Intervention categories were coded into one of three categories: 1) Motivation, 2) Emotion, and 3) Cognitive support. The Emotion,

For math performance, results showed a small significant effect of intervention on math performance in the Emotion category,

Intervention length was coded into one of three categories: 1) Short, 2) Medium, and 3) Long. Interventions denoted as Long,

For math performance, results showed that Long interventions,

Studies were coded into one of three intervention quality categories based on the EPHPP: 1) Strong, 2) Medium, and 3) Poor. The Medium,

Regarding math performance, results showed a moderate effect for Medium category,

The funnel plot presents all included effect sizes (x-axis) with associated standard errors (y-axis, from large to small), which are based on study sample sizes. Thus, larger errors indicate smaller sample sizes. The plot includes a funnel-shape where studies would ideally follow, as well as a vertical line which represents the mean effect size. From the plot for math anxiety, one can read that the included effect sizes were not normally distributed, larger effect sizes seemed to be associated with larger errors (i.e., smaller sample sizes). This was also true for math performance, although the effects weren’t as widespread as for math anxiety. Further, effect sizes for math performance were fewer than for math anxiety. Egger’s test confirmed the asymmetric distribution for both measures, suggesting bias was present (_{ma}_{mp} = .029).

The bias might have been derived from only including peer-reviewed and published studies in our meta-analysis. While including both published and unpublished studies in a meta-analysis is sometimes recommended (

Due to an extensive amount of between-study heterogeneity, we choose to not apply the trim-and-fill method, a tool to statistically correct for publication bias, as it could underestimate the effect (

The present meta-analysis examined the effect of math anxiety interventions on both math anxiety and math performance. On average, moderate effect sizes were observed for reducing math anxiety and improving math performance. Interventions that focused on Cognitive support or regulating Emotions were effective in reducing math anxiety and improving math performance. In addition, longer interventions and those targeting students older than 12 had the largest decrease in math anxiety. Study quality was not related to intervention outcomes.

There was no significant difference in the overall effect of age group on math performance, despite the fact that we found descriptive differences in the intervention effect on participants of different ages. This implies that interventions had an effect on participants older than 12 but no effect on participants younger than 12, although the differences between these effects were not statistically significant. In previous research, it has been established that math anxiety increases with age, this might be due to increased awareness of social comparison and the increasing difficulty of mathematics in higher grades (

The interventions assigned to the Emotion category also resulted in reduced math anxiety. These interventions encouraged participants to adopt a more positive attitude toward math by implementing methods that help them to handle their feelings and levels of math anxiety. These results are in line with the review by

The participants in the Motivation category were exposed to exercises aimed at boosting their motivation, but these interventions did not significantly reduce math anxiety. Studies that were assigned to the Motivation category consisted of interventions that allowed the participants to set goals for their math achievement, and to create an environment that encouraged them to reflect on and improve their math skills. These motivational processes are also supported by

Intervention length did moderate the effect on math anxiety, longer interventions had a larger effect on math anxiety than shorter ones, although Short, Medium, and Long interventions were all effective. Previous research has suggested that longer interventions are more desirable in the context of enhancing math performance, although shorter interventions can be just as efficient (

We examined how intervention quality was related to intervention outcomes, and according to our moderation analysis, intervention effects did not differ from each other significantly depending on EPHPP-ratings. On a strictly descriptive level higher EPHPP-ratings were associated with non-significant intervention outcomes, whereas interventions with lower EPHPP-ratings were related to significant outcomes. However, as 1) the main effect was not significant, and 2) the distribution of interventions associated with each rating is grossly uneven, it is not meaningful to read into potential nuances between the ratings. Future intervention studies aimed at reducing math anxiety should prioritize using high-quality research designs as the methodological quality of many studies included in our meta-analysis was generally low. Many studies did not report important information such as withdrawals, dropouts, participant information, and the exposure status of participants and assessors. A high-quality study should provide detailed information about data collection methods and address potential issues that could affect the research project. These factors are crucial for ensuring transparency and improving the overall quality of the study.

Fifty studies reported math anxiety scores and were analyzed, but only 30 of the 50 studies explored changes in math performance scores. In addition, some studies reported math performance scores using school grades while others used norm-based tests. Moreover, the inclusion criteria of reporting mean scores and standard deviations led to the exclusion of a few studies. The Egger’s test and the funnel plot indicated that bias was present.

Overall, we found that math anxiety interventions were effective in reducing math anxiety and improving math performance. The results indicated that two of the intervention categories, Emotion, and Cognitive support, were effective in reducing math anxiety and enhancing math performance. In addition, the length of the interventions played an important part regarding the overall effect. Even though shorter interventions can decrease math anxiety, it seems that longer interventions are more effective. We also discovered effects of age, as interventions targeting older students were more effective in reducing math anxiety compared to those aimed at younger students. Therefore, future intervention studies would benefit from being sufficiently long, and give either emotional or cognitive support (or both) in order to reduce math anxiety.

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Funding was received from the Swedish Research Council, VR, Grant (2019–03928).

The Supplementary Materials contain the following items (for access see

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