Does the idea of analyzing or interpreting data make you feel apprehensive? Nervous? Terrified? If so, you likely are experiencing some degree of statistics anxiety. Since statistics involves math, is it the same as math anxiety? Though the two might occur together, they are two different types of anxiety and don’t always happen in the same person1. Some researchers say that up to 80% of graduate students experience statistics anxiety2, and I’m sure that just because a person graduates those anxious feelings about statistics don’t simply vanish. If this is true, statistics anxiety likely affects a good number of people beyond their graduation as well. This is certainly understandable, since anxiety can have its roots in self-efficacy3, or a person’s beliefs about his/her effectiveness in a given situation. With enough experience, and success, a person will eventually overcome the anxiety, but in the mean time this causes an avoidance of situations where one might encounter statistics or research 4, 5.
I have frequently seen the effects of anxiety in both statistics and research classes. Usually it appears in the form of a nervous jiggling of a knee, a pale face, a quivering voice, or a tense expression. In one extreme case, a student actually fled the classroom during a test. I was able to catch her though, and as we walked around the hallways I got her to tell me about her family (this was to get her mind into a more comfortable location and help her calm down), and after about 15 minutes she was ready go back and finish her test. A few years later another student began to hyperventilate during his test, and when I saw he was having trouble I quietly invited him outside to stroll the grounds with me. I got him to tell me about his pickup, which I already knew he was fond of, and after his breathing returned to normal he was able to go back and finish his test as well. Both of these students wound up the semester with high grades. They simply needed a little help dealing with their anxiety, so they could discover their own strength.
If the idea of research and statistics makes you feel less than comfortable, try to remember it is a normal feeling for most people. Also, remind yourself that it is a temporary state and in no way reflects on your intelligence or your ability. If you find yourself being overcome with the anxious feelings, try thinking of something familiar and calming until the feeling subsides. Finally, know that the more experience you gain the less anxiety you will have.
1. Balaglu, M. (1999). A comparison of mathematics anxiety and statistics anxiety in relation to general anxiety. Eric Document Reproduction Service No. 436703.
2. Onwuegbuzie, A.J. and Wilson, V.A. (2003). Statistics anxiety: Nature, etiology, antecedents, effects, and treatments – A comprehensive review of the literature. Teaching in Higher Education, 8 (2), 195-209.
3. Bandura, A. (1997), Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.
4. Onwuegbuzie, A. J. (1997). Writing a research proposal: the Role of library anxiety, statistics anxiety, and composition anxiety. Library and Information Science Research, 19, 5-33.
5. Rachman, S. (1998). Anxiety. East Sussex, UK: Psychology Press Ltd.