Choking Under Stress - Math, Anxiety, and Girls
Psychologist Sian Beilock has a new book out on the Science of the Choke that looks into why talented and skilled people are prone to cracking or underperforming under pressure.
Some of Beilock's work looks at why girls are more prone to math anxiety and underperforming in the classroom. Math anxiety is considered a 'stereotype threat' because it conforms to a gender expectation. When teachers are anxious about math themselves (elementary school teachers are overwhelmingly female), they seem to translate this anxiety to the girls in their class and girls with math-anxious teachers are more likely to underperform. Tricky business.
Beilock looks more closely at why math anxiety makes students choke and finds that students defeat themselves by swamping their working memories with thoughts or words to themselves like "I hate math", or "When I hurry, I make mistakes".
In fact, if students are required to verbalize their steps, they don't have working memory space for anxious thoughts, and they do better. This is a low tech solution to math anxiety and choking - have student talk to themselves as they work their way through problems.
One final point that may be beneficial for high working memory performers like many gifted:
"Our work may be especially relevant to individuals higher in WM capacity, as past research has shown that the performance of these individuals is, ironically, more impacted by pressure than the performance of their lower WM counterparts. The current findings align with the suggestion that situation-induced worries compete for the WM resources that individuals with higher WM capacity normally rely on for their superior performance. Thus, it may be that a talk-aloud intervention would benefit higher WM individuals the most."
Choking under pressure at Psychology Today
Math stress picture