An investigation into the associations between maths anxiety in secondary school pupils and teachers’ and parents’ implicit theories of intelligence and failure

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Anna Doedens-Plant
Submitted: June 2018

Abstract

This research examined the role that teachers’ mindsets, or implicit beliefs about intelligence and failure, play in the development of their pupils’ mindsets and subsequent maths anxiety. A systematic review of fourteen studies investigated the association between teachers’ implicit beliefs about intelligence and their pedagogical practices in the classroom. It showed that teachers tended to report having a growth mindset, but this was not necessarily evidenced by concordant classroom practice, such as the adoption of mastery goals. Fixed mindset beliefs, on the other hand, seemed to lead to more consistent practice, with potentially damaging effects.

The empirical study built on this review to explore mindset (i.e., implicit beliefs about intelligence and failure) in secondary school pupils in Years 7, 8 and 9 (0.859), their parents (N=84) and teachers (0=9). Pupils were also asked about their perceptions of their parents’ and teachers’ goals, as either oriented towards performance or learning. The results pointed to several factors associated with pupils’ maths anxiety (i.e. gender, maths set). Also, pupils’ implicit beliefs that failure is debilitating were associated with pupils’ maths anxiety. Teachers’ implicit failure beliefs were associated with pupils’ beliefs about failure and were indirectly linked via pupils’ perceptions of their teachers’ goals as fixed. Further analysis highlighted that pupils’ intelligence beliefs, their perception of their parents’ goals and their maths set also impacted on whether or not pupils’ viewed failure as debilitating or beneficial for learning. These results suggest that teachers can make a useful contribution to reducing pupils’ maths anxiety, by reflecting on how to translate helpful beliefs into visible practice, to help pupils experience failure as an opportunity for learning.

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An exploration of how the secondary school experience contributes to elevated anxiety levels for adolescents on the autism spectrum

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Eleanor Hayes
Submitted: June 2018

Abstract

Children and young people on the autism spectrum show elevated anxiety levels in comparison to typically developing peers and those with other special educational needs. However, despite the significant time spent in school, few researchers have focused on how the school environment contributes to elevated anxiety levels in autism. A systematic review of the literature was conducted, exploring causes of anxious affect for autistic adolescents attending mainstream school. Experiences in the school environment that were highlighted as sources of anxiety included adverse noises, the behaviour of others and the social identity of autistic pupils. Additionally, academic pressure, transitions, disliked subjects, homework and handwriting were highlighted as sources of anxiety. Key frameworks of anxiety and autism (Boulter et al., 2014; Wood & Gadow, 2010) were used to understand these findings.An empirical study was also conducted to explore how the secondary school experience contributed to elevated anxiety following the Intolerance of Uncertainty framework of anxiety and autism proposed by Boulter et al. (2014). A school-based sample of 30 autistic adolescents aged 11-14, took part in the study. Parents completed measures of anxiety, sensory processing, autism symptom severity, and teachers completed a measure of social skills. Participants on the autism spectrum completed a measure of the number and types of experiences causing feelings of anxiety in the school social and learning environment. Indirect pathways from sensory sensitivities and social and environmental experiences in school to anxiety symptoms through intolerance of uncertainty were then tested. Findings supported and extended the key framework of anxiety in autism proposed by Boulter et al. (2014), demonstrating significant indirect pathways from experiences in school, sensory sensitivities and autism traits to anxiety through intolerance of uncertainty.

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Understanding the role of parent factors and interpretation bias in children from military families who show symptoms of anxiety

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Camilla Jerrard
Submitted: June 2017

Abstract

The aetiology of SA is complex; its onset is impacted on by several factors and their interaction including genetic (e.g., temperament), environmental risk (e.g., maternal overprotection) and cognitive risk. This review examined research that explores the impact of acute and chronic environmental risk and resilience factors (e.g., parenting style, SES, parental separation experiences, paternal absence and traumatic experiences) on the aetiology of SA symptoms and SAD, specifically for school-aged children and adolescents (aged 2-18). The review used three electronic databases for the literature search, a combined search in Psychinfo and Medline via EBSCO and ERIC. Following a systematic method, 18 papers were selected for analysis. Eight risk factors in school-aged children and adolescents were identified. These linked to themes of parenting styles, parent separation, traumatic experiences, socioeconomic status and early risk. Three potential resilience factors were also identified through the process of this review: parent-offspring relationship, access to therapeutic support and planned separation experiences. Findings are discussed in relation to theory and research to inform intervention for SA and SAD in educational settings and Educational Psychologist’s (EPs) practice. Limitations are explored and future research is discussed.Cognitive models of anxiety propose a cognitive-behavioural representation of information processing biases, demonstrating the inter-relationship between the thoughts and actions of an individual. Theoretical models highlight family and parenting factors that contribute to intergenerational transmission of anxiety (parent to offspring) and cognitive processes. Little research has focused on the emergence of specific anxiety disorders in high-risk groups and investigated these interrelationships. Military families have been described as being at greater risk to threat exposure due to unique family and environmental factors (e.g., transitions and deployments). The present research explored the association between parent and offspring anxiety, interpretation biases and parenting variables in a military family population. Twenty-nine mother/child dyads (8-11 years) completed a word interpretation bias task of threatening (general and separation themes) and neutral words and reported their negative affects via questionnaires. Parenting was measured via the Five-Minute Speech Sample, which assesses expressed emotion (e.g., warmth and relationship). Positive and significant correlations between parent- and children’s- self-reported negative affects were found (ps<.50). Child cognitive interpretation bias was associated with children’s reports of anxiety. No associations for parent cognitive biases were found. Parent reports of child separation anxiety were positively and significantly correlated with number of deployments (ps<.50). Parenting variables were not associated with increased reports of negative affect in mothers or offspring. Mediation models explored the association with mothers’ own anxiety and the development of biases in offspring via increases in the child’s reports of their own anxiety. Two indirect effects approached significance. Findings are discussed in relation to the development of anxiety and explore the mechanisms involved in the transmission of anxiety from parent to offspring.

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Understanding the experience of social anxiety in adolescent girls with autism spectrum disorders

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Leanne Pickering
Submitted: June 2017

Abstract

Literature Review: Pathways to social anxiety often reflect a set of complex and interacting factors including intrinsic and environmental factors. Theoretical models of social anxiety have highlighted that children and adolescents’ peer experiences can increase risk for social anxiety. This systematic review explored the role of peers in the development of social anxiety in adolescent girls. It aimed to identify peer-related risk factors (i.e., peer acceptance, peer attachment, friendship quality, peer support, and victimisation) that place adolescents at risk for social anxiety, including those specific to girls. The results showed that while some peer experiences were relevant to understanding risk across genders, others placed girls at increased risk. For example, low peer acceptance was significantly associated with increased social anxiety in boys and girls, both concurrently and over time. Those factors that placed girls at increased risk of social anxiety and avoidance, relative to boys, included limited close friendships, negative friendship experiences and relational victimisation. The review suggested that researchers might usefully start to develop frameworks that capture generic as well as gender-specific risk for social anxiety. These will facilitate the development of prevention and intervention methods to support girls at increased risk, that focus on improving the quality of their peer relationships.

Empirical Paper: The onset of adolescence represents an age where young people are at risk for the development of social anxiety. Increasingly, research has highlighted an increased risk of social anxiety in girls with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). However, there remains a lack of understanding of their experiences and the extent to which they are consistent with current models of anxiety in ASD. This qualitative study aimed to develop an understanding of the experience of social anxiety in adolescent girls with ASD from the perspective of young people themselves, their parents and teachers. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with four triads, with girls interviewed using an ‘ideal classroom’ activity to explore their perception of school-based social situations. Four interrelated themes emerged from the data across all four triads including (1) barriers to social situations, (2) quality of relationships, (3) coping with social situations, and (4) desire to ‘fit in’. The results found that girls’ experiences were underpinned by factors present in typical pathways to social anxiety (e.g. negative peer experiences and poor social skills) and that girls’ sensory sensitivity to noise acted as an autism-specific pathway. Implications for professionals who work with adolescent girls diagnosed with ASD were discussed, including the delivery of targeted training and workshops to increase staff understanding and raise peer acceptance.

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The Role of Peers in the Development of Social Anxiety in Adolescent Girls: A Systematic Review

Authors: Leanne Pickering, Julie A. Hadwin and Hanna Kovshoff
Published: 2019
Publication: Adolescent Research Review 

Pathways to social anxiety often reflect a set of complex and interacting factors that include both intrinsic and environmental factors. Theoretical models of social anxiety have highlighted that children and adolescents’ peer experiences can increase risk for social anxiety. This systematic review explored the role of peers in the development of social anxiety in adolescent girls. It aimed to identify peer-related risk factors (i.e., peer acceptance, peer attachment, friendship quality, peer support, and victimisation) that place adolescents at risk for social anxiety, and to highlight those that are specific to girls. The findings showed that while low peer acceptance was significantly associated with increased social anxiety for boys and girls, limited close friendships, negative friendship experiences and relational victimisation were highlighted as risk factors specific to girls. The review suggested that researchers might usefully start to develop frameworks that capture generic, as well as gender-specific risk for social anxiety in adolescence. These will enable the development of prevention and intervention methods to support girls at increased risk and that focus on improving the quality of peer relationships.

Pickering, L., Hadwin, J.A. & Kovshoff, H. The Role of Peers in the Development of Social Anxiety in Adolescent Girls: A Systematic Review. Adolescent Res Rev (2019) doi:10.1007/s40894-019-00117-x

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Exploring the roles of anxiety, sleep and sense of belonging in school attendance and school refusal behaviour

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Sharon McKenzie
Submitted: June 2016

Abstract

Reductions in school refusal behaviour (SRB), defined as a general difficulty with attending or remaining in school, have been a longstanding strategic priority for schools, local authorities and central government. Research into risk factors associated with SRB is vital for the development of effective assessment and intervention practices to address the problem. A systematic literature review, embedded within a theoretical framework of risk and resilience, was conducted to appraise the research evidence into anxiety as a risk factor for SRB. Twenty-one studies were reviewed, spanning the past three decades. Support was gained for anxiety as a significant risk factor for SRB in some cases, but not as an overall or central explanation for the problem. The need was highlighted in future research for collective commitment towards addressing a range of terminological, methodological and reporting issues in order to improve comparability between studies, and increase the generalisability of findings. The incorporation of physiological measures of anxiety in conjunction with self-report measures was proposed as a potentially fruitful extension for future investigations.

The empirical paper presented a pilot study which extended previous research comparing anxious high-attenders with anxious low-attenders. The sample comprised 13 girls in Year 8 (n=9) and Year 9 (n=4) attending an average-sized mainstream secondary school, who reported elevated anxiety. The girls were grouped by attendance: high (n=7, M=99.7%, SD=0.63) and low (n=6, M=92.2%, SD=1.58). Physiological measures of psychological stress (i.e. heart rate variability: HRV) and sleep, assessed using electrocardiogram and wrist actigraphy respectively, were incorporated within an exploration of anxiety, sleep and sense of belonging as factors that may differentiate between the two groups. The groups did not differ on sense of belonging or any indices of psychopathology by self-report, nor on any physiological measures of sleep or psychological stress at the beginning of the week. However, the high attendance group showed non-significant trends towards poorer sleep quality and lower HRV, at the end of the week. The findings tentatively challenge the assumption that anxious students who sustain high attendance in school are demonstrating psychological resilience. Implications for Educational Psychology practice and future research are discussed.

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Exploring the interrelationship between anxiety, interpretation bias and parenting factors in military families

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Sarah Owen
Submitted: June 2015

Abstract

Theoretical frameworks suggest that increased anxiety symptoms are associated with a cognitive interpretation bias; anxious individuals are more likely to interpret ambiguous information as threatening and dangerous. Several models have considered the role of parents and parenting in the aetiology of cognitive biases that place children at increased risk for the development of anxiety. For example, parenting characterised by overprotection/emotional overinvolvement and over control has been associated with anxiety disorders in children. The present research explored the association between parent and child anxiety, interpretation biases and parent-child relationships within military families, a population at greater risk of experiencing enduring anxiety.

Twenty children aged 8-11 years and their mothers reported their anxiety symptoms and completed a homophone task. Words could be interpreted as either threatening or non-threatening and were categorised into separation and general threat themes. Parents also completed the Five Minute Speech Sample, where they expressed thoughts and feelings about their child. Results revealed that parent and child anxiety was significantly positively correlated as expected. Children’s anxious cognitions were significantly positively correlated to self-reported and maternal anxiety (ps<.05). In contrast to the expected hypothesis, children and parent interpretation biases were not significantly correlated. Although the research set out to examine the extent to which interpretation biases could act as a mediator between parenting and child anxiety, evidence for a mediated pathway could not be established within the present research. The impact of these findings are discussed with particular reference to the importance of understanding the aetiology of anxiety and exploring the role of the intergenerational transmission of anxiety.

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