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Painful Math Anxiety

November 15, 2012

Areas of the brain normally associated with physical pain are activated when people with math anxiety think about doing math.



Painful math anxiety. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Millions of people suffer from math anxiety, regardless of whether or not they’re actually bad at math. Now, researchers report that areas of the brain associated with feeling physical pain are activated while math anxious people prepare to solve math problems. University of Chicago cognitive scientists Ian Lyons and Sian Beilock led the study.

SIAN BEILOCK (University of Chicago):

We had people perform math problems while we looked inside their brain using functional neural imaging. And what we found was that areas of the brain that often are active when people detect visceral threats or when they even feel physical pain were more active the more math anxious a person was.


She says people don’t actually feel pain because of math anxiety. But these areas may be lighting up because the brain doesn’t always distinguish between psychological and physical pain. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Math anxiety can activate regions of the brain associated with pain. (Jupiter Images)

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