Math Anxiety Acts Like Pain in the Brain

By Emily Murray

It seems there are two types of people when it comes to math – those who get it and those who don’t.

I personally fall in the “don’t” category, what about you?

Well if you are one of the many people who don’t understand math, or  perhaps even have a severe aversion to it, this could be due to the fact that math can actually cause your head to hurt! While many have likely used this as a figure of speech, a new study has found that for some, math replicates pain in the brain.

This research was recently conducted at the University of Chicago where brain scans were done on those with math anxiety. Researchers were curious to see what this anxiety would look like in the brain and were surprised by what they found.

The most interesting results came from not actually doing math but the anticipation of doing math, and it was this anticipation that looked the same as physical pain in the scan.

The 14 participants of the study were adults that researchers identified as being math-anxious based on certain questions they were asked. Researchers were also careful to make sure that these people didn’t suffer from general anxiety but rather specific anxiety coming from math and the idea of doing math problems.

So now that we know this, many of us may be thinking ‘so what?’

This new information may lead to a greater understanding when children and teens are suffering from poor grades in math classes. It’s been suggested that those with this math-based anxiety should be looked at in the same light as those with any other phobia.

What do you think? Do you believe math causes physical pain? How should schools address this?