Third International Conference on the Teaching of Psychology
Kai Ruggeri,
Queen’s University,
Belfast, UK,

Carmen Diaz,
Universidad de Huelva,
Huelva, Spain,

Karl Kelley,
North Central College,
Naperville, Illinois, USA,

Ilona Papousek,
Graz, Austria


Statistics anxiety is broadly defined as any anxieties caused when interacting with statistics, whether it be in a real-life situation or in an academic context. Extensive work has demonstrated that statistics anxiety is a potential issue in the teaching of research-based degree programs. This has been linked to poor attitudes toward statistics, previous experiences with statistics and mathematics, and expectations of the chosen degree. Subsequent studies have shown it to be especially prevalent in psychology students. Previously, no consistent method had been used to test students in multiple universities, languages, or countries. This study tested psychology undergraduates (N=450) in all levels from North America, Great Britain, Ireland, and Europe, using a questionnaire (Composite Study of Statistics Anxiety and Attitudes, COSSAA) containing the Statistical Anxiety Rating Scale (STARS), the Survey of Attitudes Towards Statistics (SATS), and untested suggestions made in previous research. German, Spanish, French, and English versions were produced in order that it may be tested in the students’ first language. Primarily, results indicated that the COSSAA is a psychometrically valid method of cross-national testing. Despite varying conditions relative to each university, results were remarkably similar across groups. This indicates that statistics anxiety exists regardless of the teaching style or personal background. Additionally, it was found that over 40% of students were not even aware of the statistical element of a psychology. This indicates that a pre-emptive approach (i.e. better informing of incoming students) may be appropriate to deal with some aspects of statistics anxiety. Positively, of the ten subscales used, three had mean scores indicating either minimal/no anxiety or positive attitudes towards statistics. Furthermore, nearly 90% of students indicated an expectation to succeed in the course, signifying that there is sufficient encouragement in these courses. Over 60% of students indicated that they would prefer smaller class sizes, including 67% from those in the smallest class tested. However, COSSAA scores were not significantly varied between classes of different sizes. While previous work indicated students did not see the relevance of statistics in psychology, 95% did claim statistics were relevant in their course. Though a majority of students did find statistics to be either very difficult or the most difficult aspect of their program, it was not listed as less enjoyable or less useful than other psychology topics. Not surprisingly, over 80% of students listed the professor/lecturer as having considerable amount or great deal of influence on their experience. The findings in this work indicate that the STARS and SATS questionnaires are fitting methods of testing. Additionally, statistics anxiety and negative attitudes towards statistics are prevalent in a broad range of academic settings. Thus, a broad effort looking beyond the setting and teaching of the course is necessary. As similar findings have been made in varied locations and languages, any approach at easing this problem may be useful internationally.

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