THURSDAY, Oct. 20 (HealthDay News) -- The key to easing math
anxiety may be less about improving calculation skills and more
about controlling negative emotions that make it difficult to focus
on doing the work, new research suggests.
The study found that activation of brain areas involved in
attention and emotion may help students with math anxiety conquer
their fears and succeed in math.
Researchers from University of Chicago used functional MRI to
scan the brains of math-anxious university students and those
without math anxiety while they performed difficult problems.
The scans showed differences in the activation of the
math-anxious students' frontal and parietal lobes, which are
involved with regulating negative emotions and concentration.
Specifically, greater activation of the regions was associated
with better performance on the math tests. For example,
math-anxious students who showed little activation in these regions
got only 68 percent of math problems correct. Math-anxious students
who showed stronger activation got 83 percent correct, almost the
same as students who didn't have math anxiety, who got 88 percent
The findings suggest that students with math anxiety may benefit
from being taught to control their emotions prior to doing math,
the researchers said.
"Classroom practices that help students focus their attention and engage in the math task at hand may help eliminate the poor performance brought on by math anxiety," Sian Beilock, an associate professor of psychology and an expert on mathematics anxiety, said in a university news release.
The study appears Oct. 20 in the journal
"Essentially, overcoming math anxiety appears to be less about what you know and more about convincing yourself to just buckle down and get to it," Beilock added.
For students who were not anxious about math, there was no
relationship between activation in brain areas important for
focusing attention, controlling emotion and math performance. Nor
did researchers find a similar brain activity patterns when
math-anxious students were asked to take a spelling test.
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