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Recent Brain Research Offers Insights into Math Anxiety

Researchers are probing the earliest causes of math anxiety, a phenomenon that can impede learning and discourage young people from pursuing careers in the STEM fields, my colleague Sarah D. Sparks reports in a new EdWeek story.

"No one walks around bragging that they can't read, but it's perfectly socially acceptable to say you don't like math," Sian L. Beilock, a University of Chicago psychology professor and the author of Choke, a 2010 book on brain responses to performance pressure, said in an interview.

Mathematics anxiety is more than just disliking the discipline, the story explains. Someone with this anxiety feels negative emotions when engaging in an activity that requires numerical or math skills. In one forthcoming study from Beilock, simply suggesting to college students that they would be asked to take a math test triggered a stress response in the hypothalamus of students with high math anxiety.

Beilock and other experts who attended a Learning and the Brain conference in Chicago this month are searching for the earliest problems in a child's math career that can grow into lifelong fears and difficulties.

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