Fig. 1

Anxiety multiples


By Lydialyle Gibson
Graphic by Allen Carroll

Almost as soon as girls start learning mathematics, they also start learning that they’re not supposed to be good at it. And they often get that idea, says Chicago psychology researcher Sian Beilock, from female teachers who are themselves anxious about math.

In a yearlong study published January 25 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Beilock followed the students of 17 female first- and second-grade teachers, discovering that although boys were unaffected by their teachers’ fear of math, girls were influenced. The greater their teachers’ anxiety (assessed with a survey), the stronger that influence was. At the end of the school year, girls who “confirmed” the stereotype—drawing a boy to depict a good math student and a girl to depict a strong reader—also scored significantly lower on a standardized word-problem test. For boys, she found, there was no significant correlation between gender beliefs and math achievement.

“Importantly,” Beilock writes, “these differences were not seen at the beginning of the school year.”

Fig. 1


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