Background to the project:

Mathematical achievement is predictive of not only later educational achievement, but also employment and future life chances (Williams, Clemens, Oleinikova & Tarvin, 2003), therefore identifying targets for intervention is essential. Recent research has suggested an important link between mathematical anxiety and mathematical achievement (Hembree, 1990). This relationship may be mediated by working memory (Ashcraft & Kirk, 2001) or basic numerical competencies (Maloney, Ansari & Fugelsang, 2011). Mathematical anxiety is generally measured using questionnaire methods or subjective self-reports (e.g. Fleck, Sloan, Ashcraft, Slane & Strakowski, 1998).

Currently there is no objective measure of mathematical anxiety; therefore this project will primarily focus on the development of a valid, objective assessment of mathematical anxiety using physiological measures, such as Galvanic Skin Response, heart rate, skin temperature and pupil dilation. This will enable validation of individuals’ reporting of mathematical anxiety and also the monitoring of anxiety whilst completing mathematical tasks. The project will also assess the pathways by which mathematical anxiety may influence mathematical achievement.

Methods to be used:

This study will use experimental methods in order to investigate the relationship between mathematical anxiety and mathematical achievement, along with other potential contributing factors. The student will use mixed methods to measure mathematical anxiety (i.e. self-report, Nexus physiological measurement and eye tracking). The student will also design and program computerised mathematical tasks.

Objectives of the research:

1. To validate the use of biological measures in measuring mathematical anxiety.

2. To explore the relationship between mathematical anxiety and mathematical processing whilst completing mathematical tasks.

Skills required of applicant:

*First or upper second class degree in psychology which confers the graduate basis for registration with the British Psychological Society –or equivalent.

*Show interest in experimental methods and a future career in research.

*As the project will require a great deal of one-to-one testing session the applicant must have good interpersonal skills, be highly motivated and very organised.

*Good theoretical understanding of cognitive and biological psychology, recognising the benefits of using of physiological measures to study mathematical anxiety.

*Enthusiasm and self-motivation.

*The applicant will be trained in the use of the specific equipment (Nexus physiological measurement and eye tracking) and the statistical analysis necessary for this project. However, the applicant should show competency in using IT, a willingness to learn computer programming skills and commitment to using new and exciting techniques.


Ashcraft, M. & Kirk, E. (2001). The relationships among working memory, math anxiety, and performance. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 130 (2), 224-237.

Hembree, R. (1990). The nature, effects, and relief of mathematical anxiety. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 21, 33-46.

Malone, E., Ansari, D. & Fugelsang, J. (2011). The effect of mathematics anxiety on the processing of numerical magnitude. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 64(1), 10-16.

Williams, J., Clemens, S., Oleinikova, K. & Tarvin, K. (2003). The skills for life survey. A national needs and impact survey of literacy, numeracy and ICT skills. (Department for Education and Skills (DfES). London: UK.).

Essential criteria

  • To hold, or expect to achieve by 15 August, an Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC) in a related or cognate field.

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • First Class Honours (1st) Degree
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain


This is a self-funded MRes opportunity.

Other information

The Doctoral College at Ulster University


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Completing the MRes provided me with a lot of different skills, particularly in research methods and lab skills.

Michelle Clements Clements - MRes - Life and Health Sciences

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