academic anxiety + STEM education

How does negative emotion interfere with STEM learning and test performance?

Especially as stress and anxiety are on the rise in education, it has become more important to understand how neural systems that process emotion interact with the cognitive operations required for successful learning. Anxiety and stress triggered by specific academic subjects, especially those that involve math, lead many students to avoid STEM fields in their studies and careers (Ashcraft, 2002). Research that targets negative emotions related to academic pursuits, such as solving math problems or taking a timed test, is therefore critical in revealing effective interventions that facilitate success in STEM subjects for all students.

Through neuroimaging, lab-based testing, and classroom-based interventions, we examine the interaction of cognition and emotion in order to determine how best to measure anxiety and stress related to specific academic subjects, and in order to determine what we can do to mitigate the impact of negative emotion on learning and academic performance. Our work in this area includes fMRI and psychophysiological studies examining the neural systems required for successful math processing and inhibition of negative emotion, development of self-report survey measures that reliably and efficiently distinguish different sources of anxiety (e.g., related to math specifically vs. testing in general), and testing of interventions that target both emotion regulation and effective study strategies.