Mathematical trauma manifests itself as anxiety or dread, a debilitating fear of making mistakes. This fear limits many people's access to life's paths, including school and career options. There are many reasons why people may develop negative associations with mathematics. How students are positioned as “good at math” is often based on non-mathematical characteristics, such as gender, race, language, or socioeconomic status.

For example, Ebony McGee, an educational researcher at Vanderbilt University, describes the fragile and strong mathematical identities that black engineering and mathematics students developed in response to negative stereotypes about their ability to learn and do mathematics. For people with a math phobia, the anticipation of mathematical work activates pain centers in the brain. These include someone who tells them that they are “not good at math”, who get scared by timed math tests, or who get stuck in a math topic and have trouble getting through it. Since young children tend to identify with adults of the same sex, this means that girls are more susceptible to infecting math anxiety from their teachers.

Tellingly, research conducted by Sian Beilock and his group at the University of Chicago shows that math anxiety isn't simply due to being bad at math. Therefore, experts are studying steps that can be taken to address math anxiety at different points in life. People who have difficulty completing a timed math test often experience fear, reducing their working memory. And having a teacher with an anxiety about mathematics, according to Beilock's research, makes girls more likely to believe in gender stereotypes about mathematics, leading to worse results.

Each subject was asked a series of word and math questions (some of which are shown below) while their brain was being scanned. In fact, previous studies have shown that math anxiety is associated with poor mathematical test performance, negative attitudes toward mathematics, and total avoidance of mathematics. Their research suggests that parents may convey their anxieties when they help children with math homework. And as Sol Garfunkel has pointed out, different sets of math skills are useful for different careers, and math education needs to reflect that.

Many students are truly terrified of mathematics, a feeling driven by a culture that constantly tries to convince us that mathematics is difficult or that it is useless. A systematic review of factors related to the poor academic performance of disadvantaged students in science and mathematics in schools. A mathematics curriculum focusing on real-life problems would still expose students to the abstract tools of mathematics, especially to the manipulation of unknown quantities. In fact, math anxiety is actually something that has potential mental health consequences in the future.

John Hamman, professor of mathematics, says the course explores the source of anxiety and teaches coping strategies.