Maths anxiety can cause physical pain


According to new research, children who get particularly anxious about mathematics are sub-consciously activating regions of the brain which are known to be involved in the experience of physical pain and threat detection.

Researchers at the University of Chicago have recently published their findings in the journal Plos One. 14 adults were recruited for the study; all of them were shown to have higher than average levels of anxiety when confronted with questions about their mathematical ability.

The participants were asked to assess the validity of mathematical equations in an fMRI brain scanner, in order that the researchers could monitor how and where the brain was activated as they were completing the tasks.

It was reported that an individual with greater maths related anxiety, showed more of an anticipatory response in the region of the brain called the posterior insula, which is part of the cerebral cortex; it is a deeply folded part of the brain just above the ear.

The posterior insula is understood to be the part of the brain that interprets the body’s physiology, in particular, when your body senses a threat, the hair on the back of your neck may stand on end as well as other threatened responses. The insula interprets this as a threat being close by as well as detecting the experience of pain.

The researchers found that this area of the brain was activated long before the maths test was actually underway. In light of this it was recommended that maths anxiety be treated as a phobia to help individuals overcome their fear.