The brain registers the anticipation of math -- but crucially, not math itself -- as physical pain.
PROBLEM: I'm not one for self-diagnosis, but judging from my dread of calculating tips and my avoidance of the cash register at my otherwise-ideal summer job at a bookstore, I think I might be an HMA: someone with "high levels of mathematics-anxiety."
Are HMAs merely hysterical, or might math-induced dread be a real, visceral phenomenon?
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METHODOLOGY: Sian Beilock (author of the best-selling Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To) and Ian Lyons of the University of Chicago identified 14 HMAs and 14 LMAs (low math-anxiety individuals) on the basis of their responses to a series of math-related hypotheticals.
While hooked up to an fMRI machine to measure their brain activity, the participants were given a series of word and math tasks to complete. Their ability to solve the problems didn't matter -- what did was their responses to the Pavlovian cues given before each task: a blue square signaling an upcoming word problem or a yellow circle indicating that math was next.