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Not all of us are wired for math

From now on, whenever a kid who gets math anxiety has to sweat through a math test, she’ll have a real scientific study to back her up.

According to researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine, brain function actually differs in people who have math anxiety from those who don’t.

The study used a series of brain scans conducted on second- and third-grade students while the children solved addition and subtraction problems.

What they found was increased activity in regions of the brain associated with fear, which led to decreased activity in other parts involved with problem-solving. Students with higher math anxiety naturally tended to score lower than their less-anxious peers.

Vinod Menon, PhD, the Stanford professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences who led the research, summarized the findings:

“The same part of the brain that responds to fearful situations, such as seeing a spider or snake, also shows a heightened response in children with math anxiety.”

It’s nothing surprising, really. It just provides scientific proof that, for those of us who hate math, performing mathematical calculations really sucks. Now it’s scientifically official.

Menon says it’s surprising that despite the scientific community’s 50-plus-year-old awareness of math anxiety, no one has really done much research on it until now.

Dr. Victor Carrion, an expert on the effects of anxiety in children, hope that the findings, published this month in Psychological Science, will improve the educational system for students with math anxiety:

“The results are a significant step toward our understanding of brain function during math anxiety and will influence development of new academic interventions.”

Menon’s lab is now looking for new second- and third-graders for their next study.  Participants would receive a modest payment for their participation, as well as a month of free math tutoring.

The next question will be, how will kids utilize this information in an attempt to avoid taking math tests? I only wish this study would have been performed back when I was in high school.

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