Mathematics anxiety in children with developmental dyscalculia

Orly Rubinsten, Rosemary Tannock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Math anxiety, defined as a negative affective response to mathematics, is known to have deleterious effects on math performance in the general population. However, the assumption that math anxiety is directly related to math performance, has not yet been validated. Thus, our primary objective was to investigate the effects of math anxiety on numerical processing in children with specific deficits in the acquisition of math skills (Developmental Dyscalculia; DD) by using a novel affective priming task as an indirect measure.Methods: Participants (12 children with DD and 11 typically-developing peers) completed a novel priming task in which an arithmetic equation was preceded by one of four types of priming words (positive, neutral, negative or related to mathematics). Children were required to indicate whether the equation (simple math facts based on addition, subtraction, multiplication or division) was true or false. Typically, people respond to target stimuli more quickly after presentation of an affectively-related prime than after one that is unrelated affectively.Result: Participants with DD responded faster to targets that were preceded by both negative primes and math-related primes. A reversed pattern was present in the control group.Conclusion: These results reveal a direct link between emotions, arithmetic and low achievement in math. It is also suggested that arithmetic-affective priming might be used as an indirect measure of math anxiety.

Original languageEnglish
Article number46
JournalBehavioral and Brain Functions
StatePublished - 15 Jul 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was completed while Dr. Rubinsten was a post-doctoral fellow at the Hospital for Sick Children (HSC), Toronto, Canada, and during Dr. Tannock's tenure as a Canada Research Chair in Special Education and Adaptive Technology at the University of Toronto. This research was undertaken, in part, thanks to funding from the Canadian Institute of Health (CIHR: Grant #MOP 64312), the HSC Psychiatry Endowment Fund, the Canada Research Chairs Program (RT), and post-doctoral fellowships (Rothschild Fellowship, Jerusalem, Israel; Research Training Centre, the Hospital for Sick Children). The authors thank Dr. Abel Ickowicz, Department of Psychiatry, HSC, for his clinical support of the participants and the research; Min-Na Hockenberry for her help in data management; and the participating children and their families.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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