When People Worry About Math, the Brain Feels the Pain
2012-11-01 0:00

From: ScienceDaily.com



Mathematics anxiety can prompt a response in the brain similar to when a person experiences physical pain, according to new research at the University of Chicago.

Using brain scans, scholars determined that the brain areas active when highly math-anxious people prepare to do math overlap with the same brain areas that register the threat of bodily harm -- and in some cases, physical pain.

"For someone who has math anxiety, the anticipation of doing math prompts a similar brain reaction as when they experience pain -- say, burning one’s hand on a hot stove," said Sian Beilock, professor of psychology at the University of Chicago and a leading expert on math anxiety.

Surprisingly, the researchers found it was the anticipation of having to do math, and not actually doing math itself, that looked like pain in the brain. "The brain activation does not happen during math performance, suggesting that it is not the math itself that hurts; rather the anticipation of math is painful," added Ian Lyons, a 2012 PhD graduate in psychology from UChicago and a postdoctoral scholar at Western University in Ontario, Canada.

The two report their findings in a paper, "When Math Hurts: Math Anxiety Predicts Pain Network Activation in Anticipation of Doing Math," in the current issue of PLoS One.

For the study, the scholars worked with 14 adults who were shown to have math anxiety based on their responses to a series of questions about math. The questions gauged one’s anxiety when receiving a math textbook, walking to math class or realizing math requirements for graduation. Additional tests showed that these individuals were not overly anxious in general; instead, their heightened sense of anxiety was specific to math-related situations.

The study volunteers were tested in an fMRI machine, which allowed researchers to examine brain activity as they did math. Volunteers were given mathematics equations to verify -- for example, the validity of the following equation: (12 x 4) -- 19 = 29. While in the fMRI scanner, subjects were also shown short word puzzles. For these puzzles, people saw a series of letters (for example: yrestym) and had to determine if reversing the order of the letters produced a correctly spelled English word.

The fMRI scans showed that the anticipation of math caused a response in the brain similar to physical pain. The higher a person’s anxiety about math, the more anticipating math activated the posterior insula -- a fold of tissue located deep inside the brain just above the ear that is associated with registering direct threats to the body as well as the experience of pain. Interestingly, math anxiety levels were not associated with brain activity in the insula or in any other neural region when volunteers were doing math.

The work by Lyons and Beilock suggests that, for those with math anxiety, a painful sense of dread may begin long before a person sits down to take a math test. Previous research has shown that highly math anxious individuals tend to avoid math-related situations and even math-related career paths. The current work suggests that such avoidance stems in part from painful anxiety.

[...]


UChicago researchers have found that the higher a person’s anxiety about math, the more anticipating math activated areas of the brain related to experiencing pain.



Read the full article at: sciencedaily.com






Related Articles


Latest News from our Front Page

Boris Nemtsov, Putin Foe, Is Shot Dead in Shadow of Kremlin - A Staged Shooting?
2015-02-28 22:37
NY Times: Boris Nemtsov, Putin Foe, Is Shot Dead in Shadow of Kremlin Mr. Nemtsov, a former first deputy prime minister of Russia, was killed in central Moscow in the highest-profile assassination in Russia during the tenure of President Vladimir V. Putin. A Staged Shooting? ... Why does the dead body of fitness enthusiast Boris Nemtsov have a pot belly? The Anti-New York Times doesn't ...
Holocaust, Hate Speech and Were the Germans so Stupid?
2015-02-28 20:31
Description form YouTube: This is an updated version of the video which was taken down by YouTube following a spurious copyright-infringement claim. It addresses issues regarding claims that Zyklon B in liquid form gives off fumes at temperatures below 0º C. As the world approaches the brink of a new Middle East crisis this time involving Syria, clearly at the behind-the-scenes ...
The Jewish Roots of Leonard Nimoy and What the ‘Live Long and Prosper’ Hand Symbol Really Means
2015-02-28 0:20
Leonard Nimoy first saw what became the famous Vulcan salute, “live long and prosper,” as a child, long before “Star Trek” even existed. The placement of the hands comes from a childhood memory, of an Orthodox Jewish synagogue service in Boston. The man who would play Spock saw the gesture as part of a blessing, and it never left him. “Something ...
Baby born still INSIDE his amniotic sac is hailed a ‘medical miracle’ by doctors [Video]
2015-02-27 22:46
What an incredible miracle… Not only was the little boy three months early – he was born inside his amniotic sac. I’ve never heard of this happening before. If you look at the picture, you can see him clearly with his little arms and legs curled up. He was still being given oxygen by his mom until the sac was ...
California Infant Dies after 8 Vaccines, Family Gets Him Back from Hospital Cremated
2015-02-27 21:55
Parents in California are distraught after losing their infant son after being vaccinated. He died in his sleep and was taken to the hospital already deceased. Hospital staff ruled his death as sudden infant death syndrome. The couple was told an autopsy was required to be performed on their son. After returning home, waiting to get an update, they never received ...
More News »