How Students Feel About Math Affects How Well They Perform, as Shown in Large U.S. Study

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By Lida Tunesi 

Whether or not a student does well in mathematics can depend on many things. How are their study skills? Do they get along with their teacher? Are they getting enough sleep? Now, a new study confirms the importance of another factor: the student’s attitude. 

Ph.D. student Kalina Gjicali (Educational Psychology) was first author on the study, co-written with Professor Anastasiya Lipnevich (GC/Queens, Educational Psychology). The new paper appears in Contemporary Educational Psychology. 

The researchers found that attitude, in addition to some key demographic characteristics, explained over 20% of the variability in whether students intended on majoring in math, over 30% of their variability in how well they did in the subject, and more than 60% of the variability in their engagement with math. 

While other studies usually focus on factors such as working memory, knowledge, motivation, or personality, until now researchers haven’t created a framework for math performance that includes attitude. 

To make such a framework, Gjicali and Lipnevich turned to the Theory of Planned Behavior, or TPB. The TPB was developed in the 1980s to map out what determines a person’s behavior, and psychologists have used it to understand people’s smoking habits, whether or not they vote, and even people’s decision to donate blood. In the new paper, the authors took each component of the TPB, including attitude, and applied it to studying math. 

Gjicali and Lipnevich used data from the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, zooming in on results from 15-year-old students in the U.S. The PISA includes a background questionnaire about the student’s feelings on the subject area, allowing the researchers to assess attitude. 

“This study extends our previous work where we explored applicability of the Theory of Planned Behavior to the context of mathematics achievement,” Lipnevich said. “This study was novel in that it was conducted in a large representative sample of U.S. students and included indices of actual math-related behaviors.” 

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Submitted on: NOV 3, 2021

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