Math Hurts!


Being in this class, most of us are not the biggest fans of math. The classic reason being that "it makes our brains hurt." Apparently this only claim isn't as far off as some might have once thought. Recent studies have shown that the anxiety produced by even considering doing math can cause some people actual pain.

National Geographic reports on the University of Chicago's study of the neural activity of 28 individuals when given a series of word and math questions. Of the 28 adults studied, 14 had claimed that they had experienced anxiety because of math, while the other 14 claimed that math did not worry them in the slightest. When the high-anxiety group saw that they were to be given math problems, the parts of their brains that signal pain and bodily harm responded as if "the subject's hand had been burned with a hot stove." After receiving the problems and beginning them, it did not appear the group experienced any pain. There was no major change in the pain levels of the low-anxiety group throughout the study. This study had led some scientists to conclude that it is not actually doing math that causes some people pain, it is worrying about and fearing doing math.


(Image Credit of ZME Science)

Sain Beilock, one of the professors leading the study, in an interview for a Time article claimedthat there are ways to rid one's mind of such anxiety and pain. While stressing about doing a problem, write down your worries, it is a good way of preparing yourself to do a problem. More importantly, Beilock says that educators need to make sure that their math pupils feel motivated and happy to do math when they are younger because they may experience math anxiety when older otherwise.  With the Science and Math industry growing, it is crucial that a large majority of children do not grow up hating math.

While being inclined to believe the results of this study as I have actually experienced pain before a math test on many occasions, I don't believe that the evidence presented is conclusive. The study was only on 28 people; I think a larger study needs to take place before the theory can be proclaimed true.  How can such a groundbreaking conclusion can be made when only 14 have been observed experiencing pain? What do you guys think? Will we eventually have a legitimate reason to despise math? 




Math is too much of a revolving door. plus, all of those characters and formulas intertwine with one another and its very confusing.but, these studies offer some interesting suggestions when tackling a math situation. the whole "writing down problems" strategy seems like a waste of time and effort. And, I am not sure of your definitition of pain? mental pain such as a haeadache or migraine? or physical/ neurological pain?

I thought this article was very interesting, however I have to agree with the researchers who found that "it is not actually doing math that causes some people pain, it is worrying about and fearing doing math". I imagine people develop the adverse reaction to math just as we develop adverse reactions to things we dread. For example, for someone who has had bad experiences at the dentist, I'm sure walking through the office door would trigger anxiety and pain before he or she even steps foot in the examination room.
I have no doubt that math (or doing an activity that some people despise) causes pain or anxiety regions of the brain to flare up. I think it only makes sense. Based on your blog, I believe that a larger sample size, while necessary, would simply show the same results as this experiment. However, I wonder if performing a larger study is really worth it. What is this study contributing to the scientific community specifically? While I think these findings are interesting, do they have substantial real-world applications that make the time, effort, and expense worth it?

I think it is interesting that you said the pain the people were in resembled touching a hot oven. I don't really think about being in actual physical pain when it comes to a hard math problem. Beyond that, I think there's a reason why math causes more stress than any other subject. There is so much uncertainty involved in math, more than any other subject, even science where uncertainty is basically expected. You can be confident in a problem, but you still have a feeling that you may not have it 100% or you might have done something wrong, which really gets your gears turning and leads to a major overload on stress. In English, history or, oh I don't know, art class, you aren't going to see that kind of stress over not being certain about the answer. You either know it or you don't. In math, it's so easy to slip up once and get the whole problem wrong. That's why I always had to double, triple, quadruple check my math tests in high school. I think that stress certainly causes the pain that these people feel when they complete math problems, especially those that are not familiar with these kinds of problems, and just are not confident in math overall.

To be honest, the notion that some people's reactions to hard math problems were the same as if they had burned their hand on a hot stove seems very far fetched and extreme. I understand that math is stressful for a lot of people (myself included) and can make people anxious thus causing some interesting reactions from the nervous system,but I have never heard anyone complain about experiencing pain while doing hard math problems. I guess that depends on your definition of pain.
I definitely agree with you that the study was a little small to be very conclusive. If it was repeated a few more times with more people and the same type of results were seen then I would most likely be more inclined to trust the results.

i think that the examples of pain felt by test subjects when faced with a tough math is not far fetch, they probably experience similar sensation of fear when the burn their hand for example. I know i have. The feeling is similar levels of stress and fear making, translating into something more tangible and relatable, such as burning your hand. this psychological reaction may be a coping mechanism to for that stress.

Would you consider that the test subjects aren't actual in physical pain, but their brain is translating those feelings which are similar to those of pain as physical pain?

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