It would be great if everyone could do math like "A Beautiful Mind’s" John Nash. But the truth is doing math is not a fun activity for some in fact most of the folks. A new study from the University of Chicago reaffirms this attitude. The research found that, for people who are not fond of doing mathematics, just preparing to do a math problem can trigger activity in a part of brain that registers physical pain.
Researchers studied 14 subjects who suffered from anxiety about doing math. When the subjects were asked to prepare to do a math problem, they showed significant activity in the posterior insula, an area deep in the brain that is associated with responding to threats and experiencing pain.
Interestingly, it’s not the actual doing of a math problem that seems to be hurtful. It’s the preparation —trying to remember the theorems and consoling yourself up that failing the arithmetic test probably isn’t going to be the end of the world. According to study author Sian Beilock: “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.”
No wonder there are some tough things people have put right up there on the list of “Things We Would Rather Do Than Math.” “Placing Hand On Hot Stove” topped the list followed by “Talk To Mom About Why You Haven’t Settled Down With A Nice Girl Yet.”