The study, published in the journal Behavioral and Brain Functions, found that a number of school-age children suffer from mathematics anxiety, but girls' maths performance is more likely to suffer than boys as a result.
Mathematics anxiety is a state of discomfort associated with performing mathematics tasks and is thought to affect a notable proportion of both children and adults, having a negative impact on their mathematics performance.
In the study, researchers from Cambridge University in the UK investigated 433 secondary school children whether mathematics anxiety has any effect on mathematics performance on boys and girls.
The researchers controlled for test anxiety, a related construct, but which isn't typically controlled for in mathematics anxiety studies.
They found children with higher mathematics anxiety have a lower mathematics performance, but girls showed higher levels of mathematics anxiety than boys and it was a significant indicator of their performance.
The fact that there were no gender differences in maths performance despite higher mathematics anxiety in girls could suggest that girls could have the potential to perform better in mathematics were it not for higher levels of anxiety, the researchers said.
The Results from this study provide strong evidence to show that secondary school children experience mathematics anxiety, said Denes Szucs, who led the study.
"Mathematics anxiety warrants attention in the classroom because it could have negative consequences for later mathematics education, particularly as it is thought to develop during the primary school years," Szucs explained.
Mathematics anxiety could account for the reasons why less number of pupils study mathematics at higher level and why the number of students taking maths at university level is in decline, the researchers added.