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Attitude Towards Mathematics: Emotions, Expectations and Values

In: Philosophy and Psychology

Submitted By enerkejd
Words 708
Pages 3


ABSTRACT. This article suggests a new framework for analysing attitude and changes in attitude. After reviewing relevant findings in the field of psychology of emotions, the author will provide a new conceptualisation for attitude. Four different evaluative processes are identified as aspects of attitude: emotions aroused in the situation, emotions associated with the stimuli, expected consequences, and relating the situation to personal values. The usefulness of this analytical framework will be illustrated with an exemplary case study.
An ethnographic case study of Rita, a lower secondary school student, will be analysed.
The case study will describe her negative attitude towards mathematics, and then examine how negative emotions developed during problem solving situations. Within half a year her attitude towards mathematics changed dramatically to more positive.
KEY WORDS: attitude, case study, change, emotion, expectation, value


1.1. Earlier findings
The everyday notion of attitude refers to someone’s basic liking or disliking of a familiar target. A general overview of the development of attitudes throughout school years is documented through surveys and metaanalyses. These studies have shown that, for example, girls tend to have more negative attitudes towards mathematics than boys (Frost et al., 1994;
Leder, 1995), and that attitudes tend to become more negative as pupils move from elementary to secondary school (McLeod, 1994). The general attitude of the class towards mathematics is related to the quality of the teaching and to the social-psychological climate of the class (Haladyna et al., 1983).
Ma and Kishor (1997) synthesised 113 survey studies of the relationship between attitude towards mathematics and achievement in mathematics. The causal direction of the relationship was from attitude to the achievement. Although the correlations were weak in the overall sample, they were stronger throughout grades 7 to 12, and in studies that had done separate analysis of male and female subjects.
Educational Studies in Mathematics 49: 25–46, 2002.

The effort to promote positive attitudes has been somewhat successful on the individual level. For example, mathematics anxiety can be reduced through systematic desensitisation (Hembree, 1990). On the whole class level the efforts to reform teaching to promote desired attitudes have generally been unsuccessful (McLeod, 1994). However, recent evidence suggests that collaborative approaches can promote positive attitudes among students (e.g. Boaler, 1997a, b, 1998; Ridlon, 1999).
A lot of research has been done on attitude towards mathematics, but theoretically the concept needs to be developed. Several authors (e.g. Di
Martino and Zan, 2001; Ruffell, Mason and Allen, 1998) have pointed out that attitude is an ambiguous construct, it is often used without proper definition, and it needs to be developed theoretically. The most obvious problem with attitudes is the discrepancy between espoused and enacted attitudes. Moreover, attitude measures need substantial refining (Ma and
Kishor, 1997). Di Martino and Zan (2001) distinguish two basic approaches to defining attitude towards mathematics:
1. A ‘simple’ definition describes it as the degree of affect associated with mathematics; i.e. attitude is the emotional disposition toward mathematics. This kind of definition ignores the cognitive element in attitude. However, even those who use this kind of definition, often rely on paper and pencil test, which makes it hard to distinguish emotional disposition from beliefs.
2. A three-component definition distinguishes emotional response, beliefs, and behaviour as components of attitude.1 This second approach seems incompatible with the widely accepted view (e.g. McLeod, 1992,
DeBellis and Goldin, 1997) of attitude, emotions and beliefs as belonging to the affective domain.
1.2. Aim of this paper
This paper will develop a new framework for analysing attitude. A foundation will be built from the background of psychology of emotions. The observable category ‘student’s attitude towards mathematics’ will be separated into four different evaluative processes: 1) the emotions the student experiences during mathematics related activities; 2) the emotions that the student automatically associates with the concept ‘mathematics’; 3) evaluations of situations that the student expects to follow as a consequence of doing mathematics; and 4) the value of mathematics-related goals in the student’s global goal structure.
The development of a new framework will be followed by a case study that will illustrate the analytical power of the proposed framework. All

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