CogniFit's Science blog: Study Reveals Math Anxiety Has Kids’ Brain Parts Functioning Differently

Study Reveals Math Anxiety Has Kids’ Brain Parts Functioning Differently

Every kid has a different preference in the classroom. Some favor science to history or English to physical education. But a new study shows children who are uneasy about math face different functioning with their brain parts.

The study was conducted by researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine. After recruiting 50 second and third graders, the children were separated into a high-anxiety math group and a low-anxiety math group based on a standard questionnaire modified for 7 to 9 year-olds.

As the children conducted the addition and subtraction problems, the researchers scanned their brain parts. What they found is that children with a high level of math anxiety were slower at solving problems and less accurate than those with a lower math anxiety. There was a greater response in the areas of the brain implicated in processing negative emotions like fear in those who had anxiety.

This is a field that is relatively new with few studies having been conducted on math anxiety to this point. For this reason, there are no clearly established criteria for diagnosis. People of all ages face anxiety and stress over a variety of reasons throughout life. For children with math anxiety, it can be a difficult situation to face.

Sadly, math anxiety is one that has been under appreciated and overlooked in young children to this point. But that does not discredit the fact that it is real and extremely stimulus-specific. A majority of the children do not have high levels of general anxiety, just when the numbers begin floating in front of them.

It is still unclear today as to what type of long-term impact math anxiety has on children and the brain parts within. Because it is a field that has been negated up until now, there is still much evidence and data to find over time.

Previous research in adolescents and adults has found that math anxiety let to a large percentage of people simply avoiding advanced math classes. The downside is that it later affected their career choices and may have played a role in what jobs they were accepted for and what jobs that were not.

So while a great deal of research still needs to be done, the initial findings are startling and a bit disturbing for youth. What it does present is the possibility of one day developing some way to address this specific type of anxiety. After all, it can and more than likely has had significant implications on individuals’ long-term academic and professional success.