When most of us think of common fears, we jump to stage fright, arachnophobia, and the fear of heights. Just as real, and just as common, however, is the fear of math. Math anxiety is the uncontrollable feeling of intense helplessness or frustration when asked to do math.
For those who have it, children and adults alike, math anxiety is a huge problem that can impact daily living. Contrary to the belief of those who experience math anxiety, their actual math abilities are usually quite average, and it is their fear that debilitates them and interferes with their performance.
Math anxiety was first identified over fifty years ago and the first rating scale to measure it was developed in 1976. It is only now, however, that researchers have begun looking at the brain of people with math anxiety.
Stanford University published an article in Psychological Science this month that uses fMRI technology to scan the brains of people with math anxiety, while they are doing math. The scans showed that the people with math anxiety, as compared to those without, have much more brain activity in the emotional centers of the brain. These areas are responsible for controlling fear. This phenomenon is seen in children as young as 7 and 9 years old. Math anxiety truly is a brain-based phobia and deserves to be treated as such.
This new information will help researchers determine how this anxiety is developed, and help to refine preventative and treatment techniques. For more information on this study, visit Stanford’s website at: here.