When People Worry About Math, the Brain Feels the Pain
2012 11 01

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

Starbucks Supports Pro-GMO Company
2014 11 26
Another reason why you should not go to Starbucks. Starbucks has an image of being a socially responsible, environmentally friendly company (Really?). In 2013, 95 percent of their coffee was ethically sourced, and their goal is to reach 100 percent by 2015.1 Other goals include reducing water consumption by 25 percent in their company-operated stores by 20152 and mobilizing their employees and ...
Group Polarization and the Fad of Ethno-masochism
2014 11 26
From "Group polarization: A critical review and meta-analysis". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 6 50 (6): 1141--1151 The psychology of White self hatred. Political correctness IS a mental disorder. More: Group polarization: A critical review and meta-analysis. Isenberg, Daniel J. the paper Indoctrinate U Harvard Professor Noel Ignatiev talks about how to end the White race The History of Political Correctness The Narrative: The origins of Political ...
Credo: A Nietzschean Testament by Jonathan Bowden
2014 11 26
This lecture by Jonathan Bowden was given at the 11th New Right meeting in London on September 8, 2007. The original title of the presentation was “The Art and Philosophy of Jonathan Bowden.” I think ideas are inborn, and you’re attracted, if you have any, toward certain systems of thinking and sensibility and response. From a very young age, I was ...
A Look Back at the OJ Simpson Verdict -- Reactions
2014 11 26
This is a look back at the different reactions to the OJ Simpson verdict some 20 years ago (exact date of verdict was Oct 3, 1995). The OJ Simpson jury consisted of 9 Blacks, 1 Hispanic, and 2 Whites. It would raise eyebrows after they only deliberated for 4 hours in a case that they were involved in for almost ...
New York Times Publishes Darren Wilson’s Street Address and Photo of House #Ferguson
2014 11 26
Hey here are the two @nytimes scumbags that published Wilson’s home address. —> @juliebosman & @campbellnyt— Ben Howe (@BenHowe) November 25, 2014 Michael Brown’s Stepdad Shouting ‘Burn This Bitch Down’ The New York Times published information about the address of Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson on Monday in a move that has generated controversy. Tensions are running high in Ferguson, Missouri, as ...
More News »