When we worry about math, the brain suffers physically
Math hurts the brain, but more than solving problems, it is the apprehension of these that triggers the pain.
According to research with results delivered several years ago, anxiety related to mathematics causes the brain to react similarly to what one can feel during physical pain. The study was conducted at the American University of Chicago, with findings reported by University of Chicago News. In this context, fourteen adults had been solicited in questions relating to mathematics.
Mathematics: an anxiety prior to problem solving
The questions focused on a person’s anxiety in several scenarios: when they received a math textbook, when they went to a math class or when they found out what was required of them to qualify for a diploma. The research authors conducted additional tests which confirmed that the subjects were not particularly anxious in their day-to-day life, but that this anxiety showed up when thinking about mathematics.
A reaction similar to burning yourself on a stove
Ian Lyons, who holds a doctorate in psychology from the University of Chicago and a postdoctoral researcher at Western University, in Ontario (Canada), observed that “brain activation does not occur during math performance, suggesting that it is not the math itself that is painful, but rather the anticipation of the math”. Same story for his colleague Sian Beilock, professor of psychology at the University of Chicago and specialist in anxiety related to mathematics: “For a person with math anxiety, the anticipation of doing math causes a brain reaction similar to that which occurs when they experience pain, such as when they burn their hand on a hot stove”.
Other studies have revealed voluntary avoidance
Previous work has found that people with math anxiety tend to avoid situations involving math. The research detailed above therefore suggests that these reactions stem from an intention to avoid significant pain.
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