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Do You Believe This....?

By taking MRI scans, Stanford University researchers have shown that students, who get anxious when doing math, reveal brain functions that differ from students who do not get anxious.That is a big claim...with many implications!

Some background information:

  • The study involved students in grades 2 and 3
  • The MRI's were taken dynamically (fMRI's) while the students were doing addition and subtraction problems
  • The level of anxiety was determined by a questionnaire
  • In students with high math anxiety, their amygdala and hippocampus showed significant "heightened activity," both areas associated with formation of new memories
  • These same students had decreased activity in brain areas associated with working memory and numerical reasoning...triggered by the increased activity in the amygdala
  • Specific to math performance, the students with high math anxiety were "less accurate and significantly slower at solving math problems"
Personally and professionally, I am not sure what to do with these research results. Is the next step the classroom use of special brain caps designed to "un-stimulate" the amygdala and hippocampus while students do mathematics?

As expected, the researchers next step is to repeat this research with older students. But, as they form their research plan, my concerns include their definition of the doing of math beyond that of skills...and the measurement of math anxiety. For example, is it actually possible to use a questionnaire to determine levels of math anxiety in 7-9 year-olds?

The importance of such research results in the hands of parents and others could produce dire changes and math mania (whatever that is!).

Source: Psychological Science, March 20, 2012