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Introduction

Reaction time (RT) refers to the time elapsed between the presentation of visual stimuli and the subsequent response behavior (Nielsen, 1970). In psychology, it is considered as the index of speed of processing. It offers insights how fast an individual can execute mental operations (Nielsen, 1970). Therefore, it can be passed on as the processing efficiency. A button press, eye movement, vocal response and observable behavior are some of the typical behavioral responses (Nielsen, 1970). The response time to visual stimuli is influenced by many variables and psychologists have used different types of reaction time experiments to determine the degree of their influence. Simple, recognition, choice and serial are some of the reaction time experiments. Some of the common influences to the reaction time are the novelty of the stimuli. A stimulus that is unfamiliar to the subject tends to have longer response than those that are more familiar. Besides this, context of the presentation is a factor. For instance, familiar stimuli presented in novel contexts have longer response time than familiar stimuli presented in their usual context. Similarly, the same can also be inferred with fear. Fear provoking stimuli interferes with cognitive processing especially when presented with problem solving situation resulting in longer periods of solving the tasks. This could be due to the diversion of cognitive resources to the danger evaluation so, diversion of effort resulting in longer response time. Anxiety is often underpinned by aspects of fear and dread towards certain objects, which are directly related to the threat the object truly presents (Hembree, 1990). One such discomfort experienced is the math anxiety (Ashcraft, 2002). This can be described as the state of discomfort brought by the presentation of mathematical problems. Such a problem impedes ones ability to perform mathematical test, irrespective of ones mathematical ability. Therefore, math anxiety has an impact on educational and occupational development (Ashcraft & Moore, 2009). The paper examines the attitudes, experiences and beliefs about mathematics and the response time to simple mathematical problems.

The research hypothesis of the research is:

  1. That anxiety (arousal) should be associated with longer response times;
  2. There will be a negative correlation of mathematics anxiety on performance in mathematics. Those who are highly anxious perform worth than their less anxious counterparts;
  3. Females are expected to express more mathematics anxiety than their male counterparts.

Method

Mathematics anxiety has been a subject of extensive research for sometime.  It is unique from general anxiety and can be easily assessed by researchers due to the context in which mathematics anxiety is measured. The research used inquisitive software to collect data regarding the demographics, Maths Anxiety Scale (MAS) measures of conscientiousness and Math Competency Scale (MCS) (Hoffman, 2010). The research participants were students whose consent was sought before taking part in the experiment. Firstly, participants offered demographic information that included their age, sex, highest level of completed mathematics and year that this level of mathematics was completed. Afterwards, participants complete the MAS which measures the degree of anxiety generated by a range of math-related tasks. This is later followed by the MCS which obtains the general degree of the participant’s mathematical ability, confidence level and their own mathematical ability. The reaction time is tested after completing all of these measures. Later, the participants are shown different mathematical equations with one unknown. The unknown is replaced with a symbol used as a substitute. Participants are asked then to search for the correct value of the missing number then press the associated key that corresponds to that number. For instance, in the equation “4 + # = 10” participants should identify the missing value as 6 and press the “6” key. They were 32 equations in total and each symbol used in two different equations. Each equation requires either an addition or subtraction and each answer was equal to a factor of 5. All equations can be answered without the aid of a calculator. Slower response time is an indicator of difficulty to complete task. Participants, therefore, were asked to complete the task as quickly and as accurately as possible.

Results

The total sample size (N= 60) was composed of 27 (45%) males and 33 (55%) females whose age ranged from 18 to 29 years of age (M= 21.27, SD=2.45) with different levels of mathematics anxiety. The participant highest level of mathematics education ranged from 13 to 11 (M=11.83, SD= 1.13). From the results it is showen that women scored higher, on average than men on the measure of mathematical anxiety. However, men had a higher score on conscientiousness. Females mathematical anxiety (M= 3.50) conscientiousness (M=3.24) males mathematical anxiety (M= 2.88) conscientiousness (M= 3.37). Males on average had higher leaning competency scores than females. Males general learning (M= 3.64) specifically for mathematics (M=3.46), females general learning (M= 3.56) specifically for mathematics (M=3.1073). The initial findings in Table 1 showed a negative correlation between mathematics anxiety and reported levels of perceived mathematics competency.

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