Math Problems: Social Factors Considered Before Adolescents Ask For Help

by Allison Ryan, M.A., and Paul Pintrich, Ph.D.


Social pressure may not exist in first grade but for teenagers, looking stupid is the number one thing to avoid -- even if it means falling behind in class. Many teachers observe that the students who need the most help in math are the ones least likely to ask. A new study found that students who need the most help in math were the most concerned about what their peers would think of them if they asked for help.

Researchers Allison Ryan, M.A., and Paul Pintrich, Ph.D., at the University of Michigan questioned 203 middle school students to find out what motivates them to seek help in math class. When they compared the survey results with math achievements they confirmed that students who were not doing as well were the least likely to ask for help. It was also revealed that competitive students were more likely to worry about what others thought than students who were concerned with their own learning and understanding.

"Social and academic factors influence whether or not students feel comfortable asking for help in math," says Allison Ryan, lead author of the study. "Parents and teachers need to encourage students to concentrate on their own progress and de-emphasize making comparisons with others," she continued.

Article: "Should I Ask for Help? The Role of Motivation and Attitudes in Adolescents' Help Seeking in Math Class" Allison Ryan, M.A., and Paul Pintrich, Ph.D., University of Michigan, in Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 89 No. 2, pp 401-402.


The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 151,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 50 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 58 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.

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