Does Mathematical Ability Predict Performance in the Research Components of an Undergraduate Psychology Degree? Only a Little Bit, for a Little While, and in Specific Ways

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Abstract

It is well documented that many undergraduate students of psychology experience high levels of anxiety about the statistical components of their degree, and this anxiety is associated with lower academic performance and various negative psychological consequences. Although students are anxious about the use of mathematics within their studies, to date there is little evidence showing a relationship between different aspects of mathematical ability and performance in research methods and statistical analysis modules within a psychology degree. Using a custom designed Maths Test to evaluate the specific mathematical skills that are required to complete a psychology degree; this study considered whether mathematical ability could predict performance across various methods of assessment and across all 3 years of the degree program in 213 first-year undergraduate psychology students. While some significant predictive relationships were found, they were quite specific, quite small, and quite short-term. Only the interpretation of graphical information was predictive of some components of a first-year module, and no aspects of mathematical ability predicted any measure of performance in second- or third-year modules. These findings have potential implications for curriculum design, particularly in terms of developing interventions to reduce statistics anxiety in psychology students.

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