Researchers Find Anticipation of Math Problems Can Actually Cause Some to Register Sense of Pain

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Picture yourself in a student, sitting at a desk with your two No. 2 pencils sharpened and ready for a standardized math test. Has your heart rate quickened? Are you feeling anxious? Researchers have conducted a study of those with math anxiety and found that it can actually register pain.

Researchers from the University of Chicago reviewed brain scans of those with math anxiety and saw activity in the area associated with pain when math was being presented to them.

“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,” Sian Beilock, professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, said according to Medical Xpress.

Bielock and Ian Lyons, a 2012 PhD graduate from the University of Chicago and a postdoctoral scholar at Western University in Ontario, published “When Math Hurts: Math Anxiety Predicts Pain Network Activation in Anticipation of Doing Math” in the journal PLoS One. According to the abstract, they sought to figure out the following questions:

Math can be difficult, and for those with high levels of mathematics-anxiety (HMAs), math is associated with tension, apprehension, and fear.But what underlies the feelings of dread effected by math anxiety? Are HMAs’ feelings about math merely psychological epiphenomena, or is their anxiety grounded in simulation of a concrete, visceral sensation – such as pain – about which they have every right to feel anxious?

Asking 14 people with math anxiety to complete both math and word problems while the researchers monitored their brain activity, they found that an anxious response associated with pain was “specific to anticipating doing a math task.”

“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,”  Lyons said according to Medical Xpress.

The authors state in the study that the results suggest a potential reason why those with math anxiety avoid math-related situations, including taking some classes and careers that might involve math.

Featured image via Shutterstock.com. 

(H/T: GeekOSystem)

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