Math Actually Can Be Painful

Guest_Jim_* - November 9, 2012 08:42AM in Science & Technology

While at college studying to acquire my math degree, I also spent three years tutoring students. I have a feeling some of those students would not be surprised to learn that mathematics, or more accurately, math anxiety, is linked to the sensation of pain. Researchers at the University of Chicago have discovered that when one who suffers from math anxiety a region in the brain that deals with feeling pain is triggered.

The researchers took 14 adults with various levels of math anxiety and ran some fMRI tests. These tests showed that when the subjects were anticipating having to do math, the posterior insula, a part of the brain that is associated with feeling pain and detecting threats to the body, was activated. The more severe the anxiety, the more the region activated, which may explain why math anxiety can be so crippling for some people, as it actually subjects them to pain. Curiously though, this region was not active when actually performing the math.

This research could be very important for developing approaches to deal with math anxiety, as this shows there are actually negative psychological reactions involved. That suggests that math anxiety should be treated like an actual phobia with active help to deal with the issues.