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Biological Psychology
Volume 165, 2021, Pages 108187

Numbers (but not words) make math anxious individuals sweat: Physiological evidence

Hili Eidlin Levy, Orly Rubinsten

Edmond J. Safra Brain Research Center for the Study of Learning Disabilities, Department of Learning Disabilities, University of Haifa, Israel.


The study aimed to determine the specificity of math anxiety by measuring physiological arousal to the presentation of numerical and non-numerical stimuli. It also investigated whether math and trait anxieties share similar behavioral and physiological manifestations. Fifty-two female university students performed an experimental task including simple or complex arithmetical equations and math-related or neutral words. Participants’ electrodermal activity (skin conductance response) was monitored during the task. Math and trait anxieties were measured using common explicit questionnaires. Results showed math anxiety levels were significantly related to physiological arousal during the performance of complex numerical tasks. Importantly, math anxiety significantly mediated the links between trait anxiety and physiological arousal in complex numerical tasks. The findings support previous work finding relations between math and trait anxieties, but also show math anxiety is a unique phenomenon with specific behavioral and physiological manifestations, especially during the processing of complex numerical information.

Keywords: Math anxiety, Physiological arousal, Trait anxiety, Skin conductance response.

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