Reducing math anxiety during early elementary school:
An intervention based on cognitive tutoring
versus a working memory training program and their impact on number sense development

Young Teams Project number PN-III-P1-1.1-TE-2016-2170

Contract number 63/02.05.2018

Financing source: Romanian National Authority for Scientific Research, CNCS – UEFISCDI


Mathematics anxiety (MA) interferes with the manipulation of numbers and the solving of mathematical problems in ordinary life and academic situations, emerging at a very young age. The effect goes beyond generating academic underachievement, to severely limiting the engagement of the individual in a variety of STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics)-related careers, leading to reduced employability and lower earnings later in life.

We aim to offer insight into the early interactions between MA and math performance, by investigating how MA interferes with the early development of number sense (fluidity and flexibility in dealing with numbers).
For the first time in the literature, we also aim to compare the attentional biases with the attentional control failures that children with high MA experience in processing numbers. The studies will also address for the first time in an extended Romanian sample:
– the specificity of MA in relation to other forms of anxiety (trait anxiety, test anxiety)
– the relation between self-report and psychophysiological measures of MA (cortisol secretion) – possible early gender differences
– the role of parental MA in the interplay between children’s MA and their maths performance

We will use a longitudinal design incorporating two types of interventions: one based on cognitive tutoring (SpaceNumber – to enhance number knowledge in a child friendly way) and another based on working memory training (SpaceMem – to enhance verbal and visual-spatial WM processing) administered to early elementary school children (age range 7-9 years). These interventions will offer valuable tools aimed to assist the early development of number sense and to minimize the detrimental effects of early MA, available for parents and educators.

Specific Objectives

• Gaining insight into the directionality of the math anxiety– maths performance relation during early school age;

• Investigating the developmental mechanisms involved in the development of number sense in relation to math anxiety and their amenability to intervention;

• Examining the early interrelationships between MA and other individual differences in trait anxiety and test anxiety;

• Finding the most adequate methods to investigate the early signs of math anxiety in children;

• Investigating early gender differences in both math anxiety and number sense;

• Investigating the relationships between early apprehension towards mathematics compared to anxiety towards other subjects, such as reading, writing or drawing;

• Investigating the role of parental math anxiety in relation to children’s math anxiety across time, and in relation to the efficiency of the training.


Our project will bring significant methodological, empirical, and conceptual advancements related to the emergence and early development of math anxiety in relation to maths performance in young children. The use of a longitudinal design can generate a complex picture of interrelations between children’s early number sense development and their math  anxiety within an ontogenetic period marked by substantial developments in these dimensions. This will generate a deeper, mechanistic understanding of the causal influences between these variables.

The two proposed interventions will reveal whether the negative math anxiety-math
performance relation can be influenced via tutoring or working memory  training. They also represent valuable tools to be used within the classroom by educators, within the family by parents or by the children themselves. Targeting individual differences in attentional  control/attentional biases, gender differences or parental influences can help modulate and adjust the interventions to the specific variables which might limit or enhance their efficiency.

Our results will be disseminated in the scientific community and they will be made available to educators and parents via seminars, in order to offer them the tools developed in the
intervention programs.