Study Finds Neurodevelopmental Basis for Math Anxiety

By Hannah Rose Sacks — March 27, 2012 1 min read
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Math anxiety has been a topic of conversation in both the education and psychology fields for half a century. However, it is only recently that scientists have been able to find a physiological link.

A new study, published in this month’s issue of Psychological Science, finds that the part of the brain that activates when faced with fear-inducing stimuli reacts similarly when faced with problems involving math for those with performance fears surrounding math.

When this part of the brain activates in people with math anxiety, the brain’s ability to process and reason through math problems is hindered.

The study, led by Vinod Menon of Stanford University, used students between the ages of 7 and 9 in 2nd and 3rd grade. Previous studies have looked at much older research participants.

Menon’s team performed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans on students with varying levels of math anxiety. Their level of math anxiety was assessed with a standardized questionnaire in conjunction with standard intelligence and cognition testing.

This type of research has important implications on the development of new interventions to curb the effects of math anxiety on academic performance. The way in which students respond initially to stresses such as math anxiety can have a huge impact on their academic performance in the subject.

Beyond direct links to math, this research has the potential to impact research and treatment of performance anxiety as a whole, reports EurekAlert.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.