Math Anxiety Brain fMRI

This is your brain with math anxiety.

In children as young as 7 years old, researchers found that activation in areas such as the amygdala and hippocampus were seen in children who had high math anxiety. The amydala and hippocampus are areas of the brain associated with fear condition and negative emotions.

The children were given simple and complex arithmetic problems and asked to determine whether the answers given were right or wrong. The children  in the high and low anxiety group were matched for IQ, working memory, reading and math performance, and general trait anxiety.

As a double whammy, the high math anxiety group (HMA) in the figure showed lower brain fMRI activation in areas associated with math processing. So anxiety could be acting at the basic brain level to hijack numerical calculations.

Did You Know? Math anxiety affects 25-50% of the general population.

For Premium Subscribers, check out more resources and references for Math Anxiety  BELOW.

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How do most 1st and 2nd graders feel when they are asked: “How do you feel when you take a big test in your math class?” At least half will answer moderately or very very nervous.

The scope of the problem wouldn’t be so bad if it were only the early grades in elementary school; but other research indicates that early math anxiety may contribute to later math avoidance, and avoidance of careers (like STEM – Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) that require good math skills.

Quick Tips for Teachers, Tutors, and Parents Who Help with Math

– Develop strong skills and convey a positive approach to math
– Relate math to real life
– Encourage critical thinking (assign fewer problems but instead teach for deeper understanding)

– Encourage hands-on, game-based, and practical math activities

– Emphasize process and understanding rather than speed or correctness

– Avoid putting students in competitive or embarrassing situations

– Use manipulatives

– Never use math as a punishment

– Use technology and be aware of accommodations necessary for students with dyslexia and dyscalculi
– Allow students to work with correctly solved problems in view

– Provide handouts whenever possible rather than requiring all students to copy from the board

In a future Premium post, we’ll cover the different patterns of math challenges that can be seen with dyslexia and dyscalculia.