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Are Students Motivated to Forget Math?


Motivated forgetting describes the desire to avoid bringing to mind unpleasant memories that threaten the self and has been well supported by both clinical and social psychological literature. In this study, I extend a motivated forgetting framework to the mathematics classrooms where many people report a high degree of stress and have their intellectual identity threatened. Hence, I examine whether students’ motive to protect their self-integrity plays a role in forgetting as a function of individual differences in math identity and weekly reports of course stress. One hundred and twenty-nine undergraduate students from an advance-level math course reported their math identity and ongoing course stress via text message. We collected students’ final exam scores and also asked students to complete the same final exam two weeks after completing the course. The results show that among students who hold higher levels of math identity, experiencing higher stress from the course was associated with greater amount of forgetting after the completion of the course. Possible accounts of forgetting and education implications are discussed.

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