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Mental arithmetic and evaluative pressure: the role of distributed cognition

Wallinheimo, Anna-Stiina (2020) Mental arithmetic and evaluative pressure: the role of distributed cognition Doctoral thesis, University of Surrey.

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The purpose of this thesis was to further our understanding of the role of distributed cognition (with the use of pen and paper) in defusing the impact of evaluative pressure caused by priming gender-related stereotypes about girls’ maths performance and performance-approach goals on mental arithmetic performance. Interactivity is the transferring of internal cognitive process (e.g., computing simple maths tasks) to the outside world by using different tools (e.g., pen and paper). Some members of social groups (e.g., women) may not perform well in mathematics after negative stereotypes about their academic performance in the mathematical domain, which is known as stereotype threat. Stereotype threat is the risk of confirming a negative stereotype expectation about one’s group. Another decrement to performance may be caused by achievement goals, such as performance-approach goals. Performance-approach goals are linked to normative behaviour where the individual is motivated by outperforming others in academic performance. Negative stereotyping and performance-approach goals can generate anxiety that deplete existing working memory resources. However, some of these working memory limitations can be compensated by off-loading the internal cognitive process to the external environment. We tested whether off-loading could buffer the effects of stereotype threat and performance-approach goals in four experiments. In Studies 1 (16-year-old girls) and 2 (female university students), participants carried out mental arithmetic tasks in the stereotype threat condition or control, crossed with interactivity or no interactivity. There was increased maths performance (accuracies) with interactivity, confirming existing literature. Additionally, the solution latencies were improved when the mental arithmetic tasks were in a known format. However, when the maths tasks were in a novel format, the participants of the second study became slower because of speed-accuracy trade-off. The first two studies found no statistically significant effects of stereotype threat on maths performance. Nevertheless, working memory in participants in Study 1 was depleted in the stereotype threat condition, but it did not affect mental arithmetic performance. Finally, the participants in the interactive conditions in Study 2 had a reduction of their state maths anxiety levels measured at the end of the experiment. Studies 3 (Pilot Study) and 4 focused on achievement goals and their differing effects on working memory. Female university students carried out modular arithmetic tasks in a performance-approach goal or mastery-approach goal condition crossed with interactivity or no interactivity. Performance-approach goal endorsement hampered cognitive performance, as measured by maths accuracy in Study 3, but not in Study 4. These findings were extended in Study 4 where these negative effects were reduced with the help of interactivity. Across both studies, individuals in the mastery-approach goal condition had a performance drop in the interactive condition (Study 3 and 4). Thus, interactivity did not benefit the cognitive performance of these participants. Finally, Study 4 reported higher maths anxiety levels for the individuals in the performance-approach condition. However, the increased maths anxiety levels were not reduced with the help of distributed cognition. Reasons for the findings and future implications will be discussed.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Divisions : Theses
Authors : Wallinheimo, Anna-Stiina
Date : 28 February 2020
Funders : None
DOI : 10.15126/thesis.00853466
Contributors :
Depositing User : Anna-Stiina Wallinheimo
Date Deposited : 06 Mar 2020 12:28
Last Modified : 06 Mar 2020 12:28

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