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Too anxious to control : the relation between math anxiety and inhibitory control processes

Journal Contribution - Journal Article

Based on the attentional control theory, math anxiety has been explained in terms of impaired inhibition, a key cognitive control function associated with the central executive. Inhibition allows us to suppress task-irrelevant interference when needed. Inspired by the Dual Mechanisms of Control theory, the current study aimed to disentangle the effect of math anxiety on two cognitive control aspects that can be identified in inhibition. Reactive control occurs after interference is detected and is mostly used in a context where interference is scarce. Proactive control is used to prevent and anticipate interference before it occurs and is preferred in contexts where interference is frequent. We used an arrow flanker task where the proportion of interference was manipulated to stimulate the use of a reactive or proactive control strategy. The results showed that response times on trials containing interference increased with math anxiety, but only in a reactive task context. In a proactive task context response times were not influenced by math anxiety. Our results suggest that math anxiety impairs reactive control. We hypothesize that this finding can be explained by a higher state of distractibility, triggered both by the reactive context and by math anxiety.
Journal: Scientific Reports
Issue: 1
Volume: 10
Number of pages: 1
Publication year:2020