Stereotypes/myths and Maths Anxiety 

Does maths stereotype and myths lead  maths anxiety?

Okay so, we have all heard the common”I can’t do maths,” “maths is too hard,” or “I’m not a maths person, I’m better at language.” But are these all true? The answer is NO.

Okay, to be fair I have said these once or twice in my life but now through the development of my academic career, throughout this module and my own education I have learned it is not as scary as it seems. Honestly, my mum decided she wasn’t a maths person this is where I decided I wasn’t too. However, I have a twin sister that is wonderful at maths so she was known as the ‘one’ who was good as maths and I was known as the ‘one’ who was good at language. Thats always how it has been, but why…

So when I was thinking of this I asked my sister what she thought of maths in primary school, her reply was: “I loved it, my favourite subject.” Whereas when I thought of this question I reflected on my maths experience as painful and difficult. As my sister began to dig deeper into her maths experience she quickly realised that the only reason she received a A in Higher Mathematics was due to her love of maths.

So this made me think, maths stereotyping and myths actually can lead to maths anxiety and hatred and this is where my blog starts.

So essentially, no child can just diagnose themselves as bad at maths or not a maths person. However, their environment and role models can inform their decision making around this. This is particularly seen in older children opposed to younger children. So role models, what do I mean by that? This could be siblings, parents, grandparents, sport instructors even teachers.

“…mathematics anxious teachers may serve to foster the early development of mathematics anxiety among their students” Arem (2010, p.30)

All these people can act as role models or influencers for that child and if they begin to say ‘oh, maths isn’t my thing,’ then the child may begin to think that that is the same for them, although this is not the case.

Everyone is, whether they know it or not, capable of learning maths. 

Inheriting these negative stereotypes may stop the child from opening their full potential in mathematics for the rest of their lives.

Okay so how do we get this across? Firstly, children must understand every mistake is a lesson and that if they don’t achieve the correct answer for one sum thats fine, they must just pick themselves up and start again and continue to preserve in their mathematic journey. Simple things like these have the ability to boost children mathematical confidence.

Okay so what is maths stereotypes and myths? Well to name a few…

  • The maths gene myths – some people inherit maths skills
  • You don’t need maths myths – how is this relevant to my life
  • The drill and repeat myth – repetition makes you good at maths
  •  The Right way myth – there is only ever one solution
  • The memory and speed myth – basically just memorising and writing what you have remembered down quickly in a test/exam

(Teachers Professional Resource, undated)

Okay so can this cause maths anxiety? I believe yes.
These stereotypes and myths may induce children’s fear of mathematics and develop a strong math anxiety for the child.

I understand mathematical anxiety to be children who have a genuine fear of maths so much that they dread the time of the day where maths is about to be taught. It gives them a sense of failure and unhappiness in their abilities. Hembree (1990, pp.45)  describes this further as  “a general fear of contact with mathematics, including classes, homework and tests.” Okay so I was right, it is a general fear of mathematics but why? This, amongst many other reasons is due to, maths stereotyping and myths.

Skemp (1989, pp.25) again describes maths as a  “conditioned anxiety stimulus.” Again another person relating maths to anxiety.  Okay, so what can we tell from this? Maths anxiety does exist and it is appearing in a number of young people today.

So how can we solve maths anxiety?

  • Positive reinforcement – stop the myths and stereotyping!!
  • Extra learning/teaching on the area the child struggles at
  • Reframe anxiety – have children write down what they are worried about and set a challenge to overcome it
  • Make maths more interactive, have group activities

(Oxford Learning, Undated)

So now we have established the links, if we reduce the amount of people stereotyping and producing myths to children at a young age they may grow up to have a love for maths, just like my sister. She was positively encouraged and reassured her maths skills was excellent and she went on to great things even has choose a degree area in university surrounding this. So this helps us to understand, if we stop the negativity surrounding maths positive outcomes may blossom.

Heres an interesting video I found to help overcome maths anxiety  that I would like to share with you:

So to answer my question:

Does maths stereotype and myths lead  maths anxiety? I believe it strongly does, without these myths being planted into children ears of maths being difficult children would experience maths in their own way and this could turn into something beautiful.  The Conservative newspaper (2013) has produced a article which explains that their is strong links between stereotyping and anxiety. It also states that a classroom without these educational barriers is a classroom without fear, essentially stop stereotyping and telling children myths. Experiences that have happened to one person may not happen to another.


  • Hembree, R. (1990) ‘The nature, effects and relief of mathematics anxiety’, Journal for Research in Mathematics Education,21, pp.33-46.
  • Skemp, R. R. (1989) Mathematics in the Primary School. London:Routledge.
  • Arem, C. A. (2010). Conquering math anxiety: A self-help workbook. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.
  • Teachers Professional Resource, LLC (undated) 5 Common Maths Myths Available at: (Accessed on 23/10/18)
  • Oxford Learning (undated) What is Maths Anxiety?  Available at: (Accessed on 23/10/18)
  • Available at: (Accessed on 23/10/18)





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