The thought of a math test can make even the most confident student stressed out, but for some, the feelings associated with math go far beyond garden-variety stress. For these students, a feeling of intense anxiety develops to the point where they are no longer able to think clearly. Are these emotions a real problem or just an excuse to avoid an uncomfortable academic subject?
Dr. Sian Beilock, author of Choke, a 2010 book on brain responses, says that, “People are very happy to say that they don’t like math, but no one walks around bragging that they can’t read. It’s perfectly socially acceptable to say you don’t like math.”
Studies show that when students solve math problems, they first process information through the amygdala, the brain’s emotion center. Within a millisecond, another section of the brain, the pre-frontal cortex, takes over allowing the student to juggle data and think critically. In highly anxious students, the amygdala is far too active, leaving the pre-frontal cortex underutilized.
|What Causes Such Stress Over Math?
Is this reaction learned or biological? The answer is two-fold. First, brain scans reveal that young children who are quick and accurate show a very low level of stress. Those who are slow and less accurate demonstrate a high level of stress in the brain. These early difficulties, even when minor in nature, cause frustration and difficulty later on.
|It is also true that math anxiety can be a learned behavior. Dr. Beilock found first and second grade female teachers unconsciously passed on their negative attitudes about math to their female students (males did not seem to be affected). This trend doesn’t just exist in classrooms. Parents can also pass down their own negative perceptions to their children, both male and female.|
What to Do If Your Child Experiences Math Anxiety
It is important to recognize that the problem will not go away by encouraging your child to “try harder” or “stop worrying”. Instead, use the following strategies:
|Whether negative feelings towards math are biologically rooted or learned, it’s never too late to help your child turn the corner to success.|
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