Third International Conference on the Teaching of Psychology
Donncha Hanna,
School of Psychology,
Queens University Belfast,
Belfast, N. Ireland

Presentation (ppt)


Background: Statistics Anxiety has been defined as the specific feelings of anxiety students experience when they encounter statistics, for example, gathering, processing and interpreting data. A growing body of literature has suggested that this statistics anxiety adversely effects academic performance. This may be particularly prevalent in psychology undergraduate students who must complete a statistics component of their degree but may not be mathematically orientated.

Aims: This study investigated individual differences which influenced statistics anxiety, namely: age, gender, previous mathematical experience and prior knowledge about the statistical component on a UK psychology degree.

Method: A total of 650 undergraduate students completed an on-line survey. These students constituted approximately 12.7% of the total UK psychology undergraduate population and represented 31 different universities. The mean age was 22 years (SD = 5.44) and ranged from 18 to 56. The majority of the participants were female (n = 533; 82%); this is reflective of gender split in the total UK population where approximately 79% of the students are female. The students were relatively evenly distributed with regards to the progression through their course; 32.7% were in first year, 33.3% were in second year, 33.9% were in final year. This survey consisted of the Statistical Anxiety Rating Scale (or STARS) that measures six separate components of statistical attitudes and anxiety which are: worth of statistics, interpretation anxiety, test and class anxiety, computational self-concept, fear of asking for help and fear of statistics teachers. In addition demographic information and students’ views and experiences of the statistical component of their degree were also collected.

Results: Older students scored significantly higher on the ‘worth of statistics’ subscale which suggested an increase perception of usefulness of statistics (F (1,583) = 6.479, p=.011). Females demonstrated significantly higher levels of anxiety on the ‘interpretation anxiety’ (F (1,583) = 9.409, p=.002) and ‘Test and class anxiety’ (F (1,583) = 8.268, p=.004) subscales. The effect of previous mathematical experience was dependent on how this variable was operationalised. The most important factor in students’ attitudes and anxiety towards statistics was whether they had prior knowledge of the statistics and methods component of their course; prior knowledge was associated with less anxiety and positive attitudes on each of the six subscales. Furthermore, those students that reported prior knowledge demonstrated lower perceived difficulty (χ2 = 36.41, df=4, p<0.001) and increased enjoyment (χ2 = 42.50, df=4, p<0.001) with respect to the statistical components of their degree compared to colleagues.

Conclusions: It is important to ensure students are fully aware of the structure and contents of their course before they begin. Ensuring students are aware of the statistical and methodological requirements of a psychology course before they commence may be an effective and simple method to reduce statistics anxiety.

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