Study of the Day: How to Overcome Math Anxiety Before a Big Test

More

New research from the University of Chicago shows that fretful math students need to learn how to calm down before dealing with numbers

main olly shutterstock_61787206.jpg

PROBLEM: Math anxiety is tied to low scores in school exams and standardized tests. Is there a way for these fretful students to succeed with numbers?

METHODOLOGY: University of Chicago scientists Ian Lyons and Sian Beilock used a pre-test to recruit college students who were either math-anxious or unperturbed by numbers. They then used fMRI or real-time brain imaging to observe the participants as they watched a screen that indicated when they were about to perform difficult math or spelling tasks and performed the foreshadowed type of problems.

RESULTS: Students who worry about math but scored well nonetheless tended to activate a network of brain areas in the frontal and parietal lobes involved in controlling attention and regulating negative emotional reactions, right when they were signaled of an impending math task. Participants who were not nervous about numbers to begin with did not register significant activation in brain areas linked to attention, emotion, and quantitative performance.

CONCLUSION: Math-anxious students need to focus on controlling their emotions before tests begin.

IMPLICATION: The researchers say in a statement that simply providing additional quantitative instruction may not necessarily lead to math success. Instead, teaching students steps to overcome their fear of number-crunching may need to be added to school curricula.

SOURCE: The full study (PDF), "Mathematics Anxiety: Separating the Math From the Anxiety," is published in the journal Cerebral Cortex.

Image: olly/Shutterstock.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Health

Just In