Researcher at Tri-C hopes to curb "math anxiety"

Posted at 6:35 PM, Oct 30, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-30 18:35:16-04

For many students, hearing the words "math test" invokes feelings of stress and anxiety.

Chelsea Simpson, a sophomore at Cuyahoga Community College says she dreams of being a registered nurse one day, but that requires lots of math and science.

“I’m not bad at it,” she said.

But, Chelsea admits math is not exactly her favorite subject.

“I get more nervous when it comes to Math tests versus English and every other subject, because I know I have to take my time with it,” she said. “For some reason, that gives me more anxiety.”

Chelsea isn't alone. A Tri-C researcher at the western campus has been studying stress levels in students around math tests. Researcher Libbey Pelaia said experts gather saliva samples from students before and after taking a math exam and analyze the cortisol levels, which correlates to their stress levels.

Researchers also evaluate questionnaires given to the students, which are used to determine psychological factors of the students’ mind.

Since starting the research, Pelaia said she's become more passionate about helping students who have opened up to her.

“They kind of confide in me, [saying] ‘I'm really glad that you're doing the study. I've sort of had anxiety with math my entire life as far back as I can remember,’” she said.

The research project is being directed by the University of Rochester and gathers data from students at community colleges around the country. It's expected to be completed within two years.

Pelaia and her fellow researchers hope to eventually find a solution to math-induced stress.

“Even as simple as implementing some sort of literature that might help them sort of change their ideas of anxiety and stress, eventually help them perform better on their tests,” said Libbey Pelaia.

She said only 27 percent of students in developmental math actually get their degrees. She is hoping that number will eventually pull up, thanks to the study.