Worry about math can trigger regions of the brain associated with the experience of physical pain and instinctive risk detection, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago and published in PLOS ONE.
Ian Lyons and his team of researchers discovered that in people who experience high levels of anxiety when anticipating math tasks, encountering math increases activity in regions of the brain connected with the feeling of physical pain. The more elevated a person's math anxiety, the greater the appearance of neural activity is.
The investigators explained, "We provide the first neural evidence indicating the nature of the subjective experience of math-anxiety."
Researchers analyzed 14 adults who experienced anxiety from math based on their answers from a questionnaire about math. Questions measured their anxiety by asking their feelings when receiving a math book, having math requirements for graduation, and walking to math class. Further testing revealed these individuals were not generally anxious and that their heightened feelings of anxiety were due to math-specific situations.