School & District Management Report Roundup

Brain Imaging Provides Clues on Math Anxiety

By Sarah D. Sparks — October 25, 2011 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

It’s no secret that an announcement of a math pop quiz can send some students into a cold sweat, but a new brain-imaging study suggests that the way they deal with that first rush of anxiety can be critical to their actual math performance.

The study, published last week in the journal Cerebral Cortex, continues work on highly math-anxious people being conducted by Sian L. Beilock, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, and doctoral candidate Ian M. Lyons.

For the latest study, the researchers analyzed 32 college students, ages 18 to 25, identified as high or low in math anxiety. The students were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging—a brain-imaging technology that measures blood flow to areas of the brain—while they performed a series of equally difficult math and spelling tasks. As expected, the highly math-anxious students performed less accurately on math than on spelling and less accurately in math than less anxious students did.

But the story doesn’t end there. Students were shown a symbol before each question, telling them whether the item would be math- or spelling-related. So the brain scan was able to distinguish a student’s anxiety about the upcoming question—and response to that anxiety—separately from what the student did while actually answering the problem.

The highly math-anxious students who performed well anyway showed high activity in the frontal and parietal regions of the brain when signaled that a math problem was coming up. Those areas of the brain are associated with cognitive control, focus, and regulation of negative emotions—not number calculations. Students who activated those parts of the brain got 83 percent of the problems correct, nearly as many as students with low math anxiety. Highly anxious students whose brains did not register activity in those areas got 68 percent of the math questions correct.

The bottom line was that students’ performance had less to do with how afraid they were of the coming math problem—as measured by activity in the amygdala, the brain’s fear center—and more to do with how they responded to that fear. The researchers said their findings suggest that interventions can be developed to help math-anxious students control their emotions when faced with that pop quiz.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the October 26, 2011 edition of Education Week as Brain Imaging Provides Clues on Math Anxiety

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Trauma-Informed Practices & the Construction of the Deep Reading Brain
Join Ryan Lee-James, Ph.D. CCC-SLP, director of the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy, with Renée Boynton-Jarrett, MD, ScD., Vital Village Community Engagement Network; Neena McConnico, Ph.D, LMHC, Child Witness to Violence Project; and Sondra
Content provided by Rollins Center

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Opinion 7 Mistakes Districts Have Made During the Pandemic
Arrogance and looking at students through the lens of deficits, instead of assets, are among the blunders.
14 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
School & District Management SEL for Principals: How a Professional Development Program Serves Their High-Stress Needs
A statewide program in Massachusetts guides principals on how to apply social-emotional learning and self-care skills to their own jobs.
10 min read
Image of a professional male in meditation pose.
iStock/Getty
School & District Management Some Teachers Won't Get Vaccinated, Even With a Mandate. What Should Schools Do About It?
Vaccine requirements for teachers are gaining traction, but the logistics of upholding them are complicated.
9 min read
Illustration of a vaccine, medical equipment, a clock and a calendar with a date marked in red.
iStock/Getty
School & District Management A Vaccine for Kids Is Coming. 6 Tips for Administering the Shot in Your School
Start planning now, get help, and build enthusiasm. It's harder than it looks.
11 min read
Cole Rodriguez, a 15-year-old student at Topeka West, gets a COVID-19 vaccine Monday, Aug. 9, 2021 at Topeka High School's vaccine clinic.
Cole Rodriguez, a 15-year-old student, gets a COVID-19 vaccine at Topeka High School's vaccine clinic.
Evert Nelson/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP