Is Math for Me? The Impact of Identification, Mindsets, and Belonging on Marginalized Adolescents’ Math Anxiety

Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title

Background: Mathematical skills are imperative for students’ development of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematic) knowledge, critical thinking, and life skills. Despite its importance, mathematics is perceived as a difficult, complicated, and stressful subject. These perceptions may lead students to develop math anxiety, defined as tension, fear, and negative psychological reactions to mathematics-related exams and activities. Math anxiety has been found to predict poor math performance, low motivation, and low confidence among students. Underrepresented minorities (i.e., Black, Hispanic, and Native American students), especially, may experience more difficulty forming a positive math identity, math mindset, and math belonging than their non-minoritized counterparts, as societal stereotypes send the message that they are not “naturally” good at math (Miller-Cotto & Lewis, 2020). Moreover, these processes may differ for students who have experienced success or failure in math. This study investigated these three influences (i.e., math identification, math mindset, and math belonging) on math anxiety among underrepresented minoritized students to test the extent to which these factors predict math anxiety. Purpose: This manuscript evaluated: 1) the effect of math identification on secondary school students’ math anxiety, 2) the effect of math ability mindsets on secondary school students’ math anxiety, 3) the effect of math belonging on secondary students’ math anxiety, and 4) the joint contribution of all three factors (math identification, math ability mindsets, and math belonging) on math anxiety among secondary students of color. Methods: Participants were 520 7th through 10th grade students (8.3% Black, 83.3% Hispanic/Latinx, 2.3% Native American) who passed the attention check. These results were examined among students of color in secondary school with different math GPA levels. Results: Significant differences were found between minoritized and non-minoritized students’ math identity, ability mindsets, and math belonging, but not math anxiety. Ability mindsets and math belonging significantly predicted minoritized students’ math anxiety, after controlling for gender. Interventions should target ability mindsets, math belonging, and/or students’ emotions towards math to ensure minoritized students are successful in mathematics. Conclusion: Teachers should encourage their students to feel valued as individuals, rather than constrained by their racial or ethnic identity.

math anxiety, identity, mindsets, belonging, minoritized students