Do better in math: How your body posture may change stereotype threat response


  • Erik Peper San Francisco State University
  • Richard Harvey San Francisco State University
  • Lauren Mason San Francisco State University
  • I-Mei Lin Kaohsiung Medical University, Taiwan



Posture, math, depression, stereotype threat, empowerment, stress


This study investigates posture on mental math performance.  125 students (M = 23.5 years) participated as part of a class activity. Half the students sat in an erect position while the other half sat in a slouched position and were asked to mentally subtract 7 serially from 964 for 30 seconds. They then reversed the positions before repeating the math subtraction task beginning at 834. They rated the math task difficulty on a scale from 0 (none) to 10 (extreme). The math test was rated significantly more difficult while sitting slouched (M = 6.2) than while sitting erect (M = 4.9) ANOVA [F(1,243) = 17.06, p < 0.001]. Participants with the highest test anxiety, math difficulty and blanking out scores (TAMDBOS) rated the math task significantly more difficult in the slouched position (M = 7.0) as compared to the erect position (M = 4.8) ANOVA [F(1,75) = 17.85, p < 0.001]. Tor the participants with the lowest 30% TAMDBOS, there was no significant difference between slouched (M=4.90) and erect positions (M = 4.0).  The participants with the highest TAMDBOS experienced significantly more somatic symptoms as compared with the lowest TAMDBOS. Discussed are processes such as stereotypic threat associated with a ‘defense reaction’ by which posture can affect mental math and inhibit abstract thinking. Moreover, clinicians who work with students who have learning difficulty may improve outcome if they include posture changes.  


Author Biographies

Erik Peper, San Francisco State University

Professor, Institute for Holistic Health Studies, Department of Health Education

Richard Harvey, San Francisco State University

Associate Professor, Institute for Holistic Health Studies, Department of Health Education

Lauren Mason, San Francisco State University


I-Mei Lin, Kaohsiung Medical University, Taiwan

Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, College of Humanities and Social Sciences


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