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Does Anxiety in Science Classrooms Impair Science Motivation? -Gender Differences Beyond the Mean Level

Julia Moeller, Katariina Salmela-Aro, Jari Lavonen, Barbara Schneider


This study investigated gender differences in the experience of situational anxiety (referred to as ‘state anxiety’) among a sample of 268 US and 202 Finnish lower- and upper-secondary-school / high-school students (51.0% female; 177 ninth-graders, 218 tenth-graders, 37 eleventh-graders, 38 twelfth-graders, 10 unspecified grade). Three main research questions guided our study: 1) Do male and female students differ in their anxiety during science lessons if in-the-moment state measures are used?; 2) How does anxiety affect motivation in science classes?; and 3) Does the relationship of anxiety to motivation differ by gender

We employed the experience sampling method (ESM), a form of time/diary instrument, to assess experiences of anxiety in the moment in which they occur, in different contexts, e.g., in and out of school and in specific science lessons. Males and females did not differ in mean levels of state anxiety with in-the-moment measures, which corroborates previous findings. Females tended to experience less positive affect and intrinsic motivation, and more negative affect and withdrawal motivation in anxious states across all their everyday life experiences. In science lessons, the only consistent finding was that females tended to experience more stress in anxious situations than males. The findings suggest that previously found gender differences in math and science anxiety might be due to biases in the applied measures (see Goetz et al., 2013), which has important theoretical and practical implications for the assessment and interpretation of gender differences in science classrooms. 


State anxiety, motivation, gender differences, experience sampling method, science

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