Math hurts math-anxious people; Research

Math anxietyResearchers have found that math anxiety creates almost the same response in the brain that is produced when a person feels a physical pain.

This research has been published online in the journal of PLoS ONE.

Researchers in this study did brain scans through fMRI of 14 math-anxious people starting to work related to math and found that the same brain areas become activated, which are usually activated during bodily harm and physical pain.

“For someone who has math anxiety, the anticipation of doing math prompts a similar brain reaction as when they experience pain—say, burning one’s hand on a hot stove,” said Sian Beilock, professor of psychology at the University of Chicago and a leading expert on math anxiety.

Researchers have found that it is thinking about math that hurts not the math itself.

“The brain activation does not happen during math performance, suggesting that it is not the math itself that hurts; rather the anticipation of math is painful,” Ian Lyons, a 2012 PhD graduate in psychology from UChicago and a postdoctoral scholar at Western University in Ontario, Canada, said in a statement.

This research shows that math really hurts the students fearful of this subject. According to researchers, this reaction of the math anxious people must be treated as any other form of phobia.


Lyons IM, Beilock SL (2012). When Math Hurts: Math Anxiety Predicts Pain Network Activation in Anticipation of Doing Math. PLoS ONE, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0048076

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