Checkup: Math Anxiety
Does math freak you out? If so, youíre certainly not alone. I was pretty much terrified of math as a kid, and even today having to deal with numbers makes me a little queasy. But why? Why do some people take to math like itís nothing, while others want nothing to do with it?
Vinod Menon, a professor of psychiatry, neurology, and neuroscience at Stanford University Medical Center, has looked into this question. He studied whatís known as math anxiety in about 50 2nd and 3rd graders.
Menon: And so we asked them questions like, if you had to go to the drawing board in front of the class and you were asked to solve a problem Ö
Like, say, 25 plus 16 Ö
"How anxious would it make you feel?"
The kids rated their answers from one to five, five being the most anxious. Then Menon had the kids do some math on the board while he scanned their brains Ö
"And what we found was that brain areas that are involved in processing fearful stimuli, such as seeing a spider or a snake, also shows a heightened response in children with high math anxiety."
One thing thatís sort of strange is that kids who are anxious about math arenít necessarily anxious about tests or school or about life generally. Itís just math.
"So itís a very stimulus specific phenomenon in which kind of leads me to think itís more social or cultural."
More social or cultural, that is, than something genetic. In other words, while some people are clearly born with a talent for math, itís probably not the case that others are hard-wired to experience flop sweat when faced with a story problem. Which is good news for us math-phobes -- because just like itís possible to overcome a fear of flying and many other phobias, itís probably possible to overcome math anxiety.
Iím Jeremy Shere