The longitudinal role of mathematics anxiety in mathematics development: Issues of gender differences and domain-specificity

Zhe Wang*, Kaili Rimfeld, Nicholas Shakeshaft, Kerry Schofield, Margherita Malanchini

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction: Mathematics anxiety (MA) is an important risk factor hindering the development of confidence and capability in mathematics and participation in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics workforce. The aim of the present study is to further our understanding of these relations in adolescence by adopting a threefold approach. First, we adopted a longitudinal design to clarify the temporal order in the developmental relations between (a) MA and mathematics achievement and (b) MA and mathematics self-perceived ability. Second, we investigated whether the developmental relations between MA and mathematics achievement/self-perceived ability differed between boys and girls. Finally, we explored the domain-specificity of MA by examining its role in foreign language (L2) learning. Methods: Data were collected from 1043 Italian high school students. Students reported their anxiety, self-perceived ability, and school achievement in mathematics and L2 over two separate waves, one semester apart. Results: Using multi-group cross-lagged panel analyses, we found that (a) mathematics achievement predicted MA longitudinally, whereas MA did not predict subsequent mathematics achievement; (b) there was a negative reciprocal relation between MA and mathematics self-perceived ability in male, but not female students; and (c) there were longitudinal relations between MA and L2 achievement and self-perceived ability above and beyond L2 anxiety. Conclusions: These findings support the deficit view of the developmental relation between MA and mathematics achievement, highlight high school male students as a vulnerable group evincing vicious transactions between high anxiety and low self-efficacy in mathematics, and reveal the importance of internal cross-domain comparison processes in MA development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)220-232
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Adolescence
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020


  • Adolescence
  • Domain-specificity
  • Gender differences
  • Longitudinal
  • Mathematics anxiety
  • Mathematics development


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