Brain Study Points to Potential Treatments for Math Anxiety
Brain Study: By Sarah D. Sparks on October 20, 2011, Via Education Week
Brain Study: For some students, an announcement of a math pop quiz can send them into a cold sweat. A new brain-imaging study suggests that the way they deal with that first rush of anxiety can be critical to their actual math performance.
The study, published this morning in the journal Cerebral Cortex, is a continuation of work on highly math-anxious people being conducted by Sian L. Beilock, associate psychology professor at the University of Chicago, and doctoral candidate Ian M. Lyons. In prior research, Beilock has found that just the thought of doing math problems can trigger stress responses in people with math anxiety, and adult teachers can pass their trepidation about math on to their students.
But nobody likes to perform badly. And dyscalculia—a serious math disability—affects about as many people as dyslexia. So which comes first: the struggle to do math, or the fear of it?
The latest study suggests fear may be a bigger hindrance than previously thought. The researchers analyzed 32 college students, ages 18 to 25, identified as high or low math anxiety based on their answers to a questionnaire. The students were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI—a brain imaging technology which measures blood flow to different areas of the brain—while the students performed a series of equally difficult math and spelling tasks. As expected, students who were highly anxious about math performed less accurately on math than on spelling and less accurately in math than students who were not afraid. But the story doesn’t end there.
A copy of the study is available here: Math anxiety.pdf
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