Statistics anxiety is the feeling of discomfort, apprehension or nervousness associated with performing tasks and problems regarding statistical content (Devine, Fawcett, Sz?cs & Dowker, 2012). This is a common problem faced by many students enrolled in disciplines they initially regarded as non-mathematical, such as social sciences e.g. psychology (Chew, Peter, Dillon & Denise, 2014), these degrees are commonly chosen by individuals with less exposure or previous unpleasant experiences with mathematics (Paechter, Macher, Martskvishvili, Wimmer & Papousek, 2017).
In a survey of 374 universities offering psychology, Stoloff et al. (2009) discovered that 100% of the universities required students to complete a minimum of one statistics course to satisfy the degree programme requirements. Thus, it is apparent that statistics is an integral aspect of becoming a competent psychologist, and given the high-stakes and compulsory aspects of statistics courses, it makes the high prevalence of anxiety unsurprising (Chew et al., 2014). Statistics anxiety often causes individuals to extensively prolong enrolment onto the course, and motivates many to drop-out (Luttenberger, Wimmer & Paechter, 2018). Given the nature of this statistics anxiety, remedial action needs to be taken to address this problem, especially as the use of statistical data increases as a psychology student’s educational career progresses – into Honours and postgraduate studies. However, Luttenberger et al. (2018), found that; if the chances of obtaining positive grades are achievable, students can gear statistics anxiety as a motivational force to produce success. Researching in statistics anxiety has practical implications for teaching. Teachers may be better able to predict, manage and target prone individuals with additional help (i.e. extra classes), with instructors accommodating for statistics anxiety with high levels of care reserved for disabled students (Malik, 2015). Changes to the methods of teaching could be made by developing strategies to improve the statistical learning experience, thereby allowing students to use statistics anxiety to achieve success.
Psychology as a profession has experienced major changes to the gender composition over the last few decades (Olos ; Hoff, 2006), and is now regarded as a female dominated profession (Crothers, 2010). Despite this, Paechter et al. (2017), Macher et al. (2012), Macher, Paechter, Papousek ; Ruggeri (2011) and Eman, Dogar, Khalid ; Halder (2012) have found that female university students experience higher levels of statistical anxiety than males. However, at least one study by Koh ; Zawi (2014) found the opposite relationship to be true, whilst studies by Mji (2009) and Balo?lu (2003) reported no significant differences between gender groups.
Paechter et al (2017) had 225 participants (72.88% females, 37.22% males), Macher et al. (2012) had 284 participants (79.23% females, 20.77% males) and Macher et al. (2011) had 147 participants (76.19% females, 23.81% males), all three conducted their studies on undergraduate psychology students, and found females to experience greater statistics anxiety than males. Furthermore, the sample population had gender compositions which were representative of Australian psychology gender distributions (76.7%female, 23.3%male) (Health Workforce Australia, 2014), and all students were enrolled in introductory statistics. The mean ages (M) of M=20.44, M=21.40 and M=20.80 respectively. All three studies used the Statistics Anxiety Rating Scale (STARS), to quantitatively measure statistics anxiety, this comprised of 23 self-report items rated on a five-point scale (1=no anxiety, 5=very much anxiety). Paechter et al (2017) and Macher et al. (2012) collected data at three separate occasions. Whereas Macher et al. (2011), though a cross-sectional design, collected data once, one week prior to the examination and compared to examination results a week after initial collection, a limitation of this, according to Macher, is that due to the correlational nature of the data, causal conclusions may be limited, however, a valuable insight can still be taken from the study. The aforementioned studies were conducted in Austria, which may limit externally validity to Australian undergraduate psychology students.
The study by Eman et al. (2012) was conducted on 100 graduate sociology students (50% females) enrolled in introductory statistics. Using a 20-item questionnaire, administered via convenient sampling 3-7days prior to examination, and statistical anxiety was quantified via The Test Anxiety Inventory. The illustrated similarities of gender and statistical anxiety across social sciences, this is highly valuable. Some limitations are the small sample size and the gender distribution not comparably representative of Australian psychology.
Whilst a majority of research indicates females to experience higher statistics anxiety than males, Koh ; Zawi (2014) found the contrary, their study used 141 (77.6% females, 22.4% males) postgraduate students. A nine-point Likert scale was used to measure anxiety (1=strongly agree, 5=strongly disagree). Although this study uses a mostly reliable scale, with the population sample closely representing the Australian psychology workforce, it uses Malaysian participants with high variability within the sample (i.e. participants with both science/ non-science degrees) in unspecified postgraduate fields. This greatly reduces external validity to Australian undergraduate psychology students.
Mji (2009) and Balo?lu (2003) both used STARS and a Likert-type scale, with 226 (66.4 % female, 33.6 male) and 246 (74.4% female, 25.6% male) participants respectively. Both found no significant gender differences. Balo?lu used unspecified social science college students with a variety of majors and Mji’s participants were students of business, marketing and accounting, this reduces their external validity. The limited generalizability is further illustrated in Balo?lu’s study, as the sample included students from first year through to postgraduate students, while Mji’s study only used students with no previous maths experience – this extremely decreases validity to Australian undergraduate (first year) psychology students.
On balance, the majority of literature shows found females to experience greater statistics anxiety than males, however, the studies differed in included variables within analysis (e.g. GPA, age or previous experience,) and methodologies. To test the theoretical hypothesis, an experiment was conducted with the purpose of determining the gender differences in statistics anxiety. It was hypothesised that females would experience greater statistics anxiety than males on the ___ scale.