Human emotions play a significant role in their performance. Various research has proven that negative emotions influence an adult’s performance.
In adults, high maths-anxious people tend to have poorer performance than lower maths-anxious individuals. Their anxiety about the subject acts as a hindrance to their problem-solving skills. Additionally, arithmetic performance decreases when they are tested under pressure.
Likewise, emotions influence children’s cognitive performance in various domains, such as memory, attention, executive control, decision-making, reasoning and problem-solving.
Maths anxiety is directly linked to maths performance in children as early as pre-elementary and elementary schools. Also, children’s maths performance decreases under pressure.
Emotions capture the child’s attention and distract them from the target arithmetic problem-solving task.
Research conducted by Patrick Lemaire to study the impact of negative emotions on the arithmetic performance of children included a sample of 207 children. The children aged 8 to 15 were asked to verify true or false for one-digit addition problems. For instance, 10+4=13. True? False?
Each child solved 96 problems. The basic sets included 12 addition problems presented in a standard form of one-digit numbers.
The children were presented with one hundred and eight pictures. Half the pictures were emotionally negative and half were emotionally neutral.
Children were administered these tests in groups of 10–20 in their classroom at school. They were informed that they would be shown pleasant and unpleasant pictures on a screen and would complete an arithmetic task after. The children were to perform calculations and mark the option of either true or false—this required cognitive functioning and decision-making.
To begin with, the children were given a practice session in which they attempted a trial of 12 similar problems (six true and six false; half with a neutral picture and the other half with a negative image). After the practice session, they were presented with the 96 problems, divided into two blocks of 48 trials each.
After this problem-verification task, the child’s arithmetic fluency was assessed with the Arithmetic Tempo Test. The test includes four sets with 40 arithmetic problems each. Each set comprises only addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division problems.
For each set, the children were to attempt the correct answers to as many problems as possible within one minute. Lastly, they were given one minute to solve as many problems from the mixed set of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems. The total sum of correctly solved problems was calculated for each child.
The conclusion retrieved after the study were:
Children solved arithmetic problems slower when affected by emotions than in neutral conditions, especially more difficult problems.
The harmful effects of negative emotions on performance decreased with the child’s age.
For simple problem-solving tasks, the effects of emotions changed with children’s age. They decreased from age 8–12 and remained stable after that.
The effects of negative emotions carried over across successive trials in all age groups with the pattern that they were prominent in current trials immediately preceded by emotion trials. They most likely result from the accumulated effects of emotions through successive trials. This could happen if children did not disengage from emotions on previous trials when the next trials occur.