Perceptions of Ease and Difficulty, but not Growth Mindset, Predict Specific Math Attitudes

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Background: People report negative attitudes towards fractions and percentages relative to whole numbers (WNs, Sidney, Thompson, Fitzsimmons, & Taber, 2021), and these attitudes may relate to an individual's interpretation of what experiences with these number types signify. Because fractions are challenging, individual differences related to beliefs about challenge, such as endorsement of a growth versus fixed mindset (Dweck, 2006) and interpretations of easy or difficult experiences (Fisher & Oyserman, 2017), could relate to attitudes towards fractions relative to other number types.

Aims: Two studies tested whether gender, math skills, mindset beliefs, and perceptions of difficulty relate to negative math attitudes towards specific number types.

Samples: Two samples of college students (Study 1: N = 491; Study 2: N = 415), approximately 19 years of age (17% male, 51% first year students) participated.

Methods: Participants rated attitudes pertaining to WNs, fractions, and percentages, endorsement of a growth mindset, and perceptions of ease and difficulty.

Results: Replicating prior work (Sidney, Thompson, Fitzsimmons, & Taber, 2021), college students endorsed more negative attitudes about fractions than WNs and percentages. Self-reported ACT scores related to all number-type attitudes, endorsement of the belief that 'difficult tasks/goals are important' related to fraction attitudes, and endorsement of the belief that 'easy tasks/goals are possible' related to whole number attitudes. Endorsement of a growth mindset did not relate to specific math attitudes.

Conclusions: People struggle to integrate their whole number and rational number representations, and one reason people hold negative attitudes about fractions may be that they view them as difficult and even impossible.

Keywords: fractions; growth mindset; integrated theory of whole numbers and fractions development; lay theories of ease and difficulty; math attitudes; percentages; whole numbers.

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British Journal of Educational Psychology





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