"Statistics Anxiety" Among Sociology Majors: A First Diagnosis and Some Treatment Options

Document Type

Article - Merrimack Access Only

Publication Title

Teaching Sociology


American Sociological Association

Publication Date


Abstract/ Summary

Helping students overcome their "statistics anxiety" has become an important part and explicit objective of social statistics courses. This relatively new trend is reflected most clearly in recently published statistics textbooks and in Teaching Sociology articles. Regarding the former, in the past few years we have witnessed the publication of texts called Statistics for the Terrified (Kranzler and Moursund 1999), Statistics for People Who (Think They) Hate Statistics (Salkind 2000), and Statistics Without Tears (Rowntree 2004). And during the 20 years since Blalock (1987) first insisted that reducing students' statistics anxiety should be an explicit course goal, a number of articles have appeared in Teaching Sociology that have described techniques for doing so (e.g. Auster 2000; Paxton 2006; Potter 1995; Schacht 1990; Schacht and Stewart 1990, 1992; Schumm et al. 2002). Bessant's (1992:143) description of students' anxiety as "one of the most significant barriers that instructors encounter while teaching statistics" nicely summarizes sociologists' recent perspective on the issue. Many sociologists now seem to assume that most, if not all, sociology students enter statistics courses full of anxiety. The Problem is that this assumption is based solely on anecdotal and informal evidence. The present study seeks to correct this problem. I begin by examining the nature and quality of the evidence that sociologists have offered for the existence of statistics anxiety. I go on to offer the first empirical assessment of the extent of sociology majors' anxiety. My results show that sociologists' assumptions that an overwhelming majority of students are anxious is not quite accurate. They also demonstrate that females and students who expect lower course grades are significantly more likely to report feeling anxious on the first day of class. In conclusion, I outline a research agenda for studying both the extent and causes of statistics anxiety, and possible treatment options for it. I also discuss three potential negative consequences for students of continuing to assume high levels of statistics anxiety among sociology majors.