Is math painful to the brain?

According to a new study, the mere prospect of a mathematical problem causes pain centers to turn on in brains with a phobia of numbers. Researchers from the University of Chicago measured the neural activity of 28 adults, 14 who had been identified with high math anxiety and 14 with low math anxiety.

Is math painful to the brain?

According to a new study, the mere prospect of a mathematical problem causes pain centers to turn on in brains with a phobia of numbers. Researchers from the University of Chicago measured the neural activity of 28 adults, 14 who had been identified with high math anxiety and 14 with low math anxiety. Worrying about a math test can literally hurt. According to a new study, the anticipation of solving math problems illuminates pain networks in the brains of people with high levels of math anxiety.

Mathematics, on the other hand, is a recent cultural invention and, therefore, it seems unlikely that a purely evolutionary mechanism will drive a response to neuronal pain triggered by the prospect of doing mathematics. While looking at the visual signal that there was a mathematical problem, the HMAs experienced a surge of activity in parts of the brain associated with the perception of pain, including the dorsoposterior peninsula and the middle cingulate cortex, brain scans showed. . Beilock's work, with the support of the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education, has also shown that math anxiety can begin as early as the first grade and that elementary school teachers often transmit their math anxiety to their students.

Interestingly, levels of math anxiety were not associated with brain activity in the insula or any other neural region when volunteers were doing math. But none of these brain responses occurred when the subjects were actually doing math problems. When people with high math anxiety saw the dreaded yellow circle, the parts of the brain related to the perception of pain lit up like a pinball machine. Fourteen HMAs and fourteen people with low math anxiety (AML) were identified in a separate pre-selection session using the Short Math Anxiety Rating Scale (SMARS), which measures math anxiety at the trait level.

The dorsoposterior insula and the middle cingulate cortex are parts of the brain that are associated with the experience of pain. The results showed that, when HMAs saw the light corresponding to a difficult mathematical problem, their brains anticipated the questions as a visceral and aversive body reaction. Many people would rather have a root canal than solve a math problem, but some people have such high levels of math anxiety that just thinking about doing math can cause physical pain, according to a new study. The hypothesis was that the expectation of having to do calculations would be what would generate anxiety, which in turn would generate pain.

When analyzing the differences in brain activity between HMA and AML when working on the most difficult mathematical questions, Lyon writes that four regions (the bilateral dorsoposterior peninsula, the middle cingulate cortex and a dorsal segment of the right central sulcus) showed significant interaction, driven by a positive relationship between SMARS and mathematical signal activity and a negative relationship between SMARS and word signal activity. Apparently, HMAs did not experience pain when working on math problems (although they did worse on difficult math problems than on difficult word problems). The work of Lyons and Beilock suggests that, for people with math anxiety, a painful sense of dread can begin long before the person sits down to take a math test. .

Louise Simard
Louise Simard

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