ERIC Number: EJ930043
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2011-May-18
Reference Count: 0
"Math Anxiety" Explored in Studies
Sparks, Sarah D.
Education Week, v30 n31 p1, 16 May 2011
Math problems make more than a few students--and even teachers--sweat, but new brain research is providing insights into the earliest causes of the anxiety so often associated with mathematics. Experts argue that "math anxiety" can bring about widespread, intergenerational discomfort with the subject, which could lead to anything from fewer students pursuing math and science careers to less public interest in financial markets. Mathematics anxiety is more than just disliking math, however; someone with math anxiety feels negative emotions when engaging in an activity that requires numerical or math skills. Anxiety has become a hot topic in education research, as educators and policymakers become increasingly focused on test performance and more-intensive curricula, and neuroscience has begun to provide a window into how the brain responds to anxiety. Anxiety can literally cut off the working memory needed to learn and solve problems, according to Dr. Judy Willis, a Santa Barbara, California-based neurologist, former middle school teacher, and author of the 2010 book Learning to Love Math. When first taking in a problem, a student processes information through the amygdala, the brain's emotional center, which then prioritizes information going to the prefrontal cortex, the part responsible for the brain's working memory and critical thinking. During stress, there is more activity in the amygdala than the prefrontal cortex; even as minor a stressor as seeing a frowning face before answering a question can decrease a student's ability to remember and respond accurately. Moreover, a series of experiments at the Mangels Lab of Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory and Attention at Baruch College at the City University of New York suggests this stress reaction may hit hardest the students who might otherwise be the most enthusiastic about math.
Descriptors: Short Term Memory, Brain, Mathematics Anxiety, Neuropsychology, Brain Hemisphere Functions, Cognitive Psychology, Stress Variables, Mathematical Aptitude, Mathematics Skills
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Elementary Secondary Education
Authoring Institution: N/A