Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


College of Education and International Services


Educational Psychology, Ph.D.

First Advisor

Nadia Nosworthy

Second Advisor

Jimmy Kijai

Third Advisor

Michael Milmine



A worldwide problem, math anxiety is defined as an anxious state with an unpleasant feeling of tension characterized by fear of failing to achieve mathematics targets. Psychologically, math anxiety involves anxiety, tension, discomfort, nervousness, fear, shock, and insecurity. Math anxiety has been perceived as a key influencer of reduced math achievement, and avoidance of math-related careers. On the other hand, abilities, flow, interests, and psychological conditions contribute to student mathematics success. Belief in one's ability to perform a specific task boosts self-efficacy, which has been studied widely as a predictor of student academic performance. When students are interested in, concentrated on, and passionate about doing an activity, they are experiencing flow. How math anxiety is affected by both mathematics self-efficacy and flow experience has not been well researched, especially among international undergraduate students in the United States.


To bridge this gap, this study investigated the influence of flow experience on math anxiety, the influence of mathematics self-efficacy on mathematics anxiety, and the influence of flow experience on mathematics anxiety through math self-efficacy as a mediator. To conduct this quantitative study, a questionnaire was designed to collect participant demographic data, and data about the research variables: (a) math anxiety, (b) math self-efficacy, and (c) flow experience. The Mathematics Self-Efficacy and Anxiety Questionnaire (MSEAQ) developed by May (2009) was used to measure student mathematics self-efficacy and mathematics anxiety. The Core Flow Scale developed by Martin and Jackson (2008) measured student flow experience. Based on a convenience sampling method, 614 international undergraduate students were surveyed and 503 (136 males, 367 females) produced valid responses which were analyzed statistically using SPSS and AMOS. Descriptive statistics were computed to understand the data distribution and to measure the levels of flow experience, math self-efficacy, and student mathematics anxiety. Math self-efficacy, flow experience, and math anxiety scales demonstrated high reliability (Cronbach alpha values 0.94, 0.94, 0.93 respectively). Structural equation modelling technique (SEM) was used to test the proposed research model.


The findings revealed that the level of mathematics anxiety was moderate (M = 3.18, SD = 0.87). All the anxiety dimensions revealed a similar pattern. Most participants felt stressed (M = 3.22, SD = 0.98), confused (M = 3.21, SD = 0.90), less motivated (M = 3.06, SD = 1.02), and less confident (M = 3.00, SD = 0.95) while solving mathematics problems. Second, most participants felt flow experience while solving mathematics problems (M = 3.25, SD =0.95). All dimensions of flow experience recorded a moderate level, except for freedom from being time-bound which was the lowest (M = 2.72, SD = 1.23). Females (M = 3.16, SD = 0.89) felt more mathematics anxiety than males (M = 2.99, SD = 0.78) while solving mathematics problems; this difference was statistically significant (t (501) = -1.95, p = 0.05) with a large effect size (d = 0.86). Additionally, the application of an independent sample t-test on flow experience data showed that males (M = 3.39, SD = 0.87) experienced more flow experience than females (M = 3.20, SD = 0.97) while solving mathematical problems; this difference was statistically significant (t (501) = 2.04, p = 0.04), with a large effect size (d = 0.95). Finally, the results of the relationships tested showed that (a) flow experience had a strong, positive, and significant impact on math self-efficacy (β = 0.709, p < 0.001), (b) math self-efficacy had a moderate to strong, negative, and significant impact on mathematics anxiety (β = -0.466, p < 0.001), (c) flow experience was negatively related to math anxiety (r = -0.39) (d) flow experience had a weak, negative, and insignificant direct impact on mathematics anxiety (β = -0.058, p > 0.1), and (e) flow experience had a moderate but significant negative indirect effect on mathematics anxiety through self-efficacy (β = -0.330, p < 0.05).


Recommendations for teachers include trying to maintain a challenge-skill balance and establishing clear goals to escalate flow experience, and provision of immediate constructive feedback to boost self-efficacy. To reduce math anxiety, instructors should apply positive psychology strategies, including special strategies for students with exceptionalities. The current study could be extended by employing a mixed-design research strategy, collecting primary data both quantitively and qualitatively to provide more in-depth information about these variables.

Subject Area

Mathematics--Study and teaching--Psychological aspects; Math anxiety


Included in

Mathematics Commons