Biomedical Engineering Blog

Biomedical Engineering

The Biomedical Engineering blog is the place for conversation and discussion about topics related to engineering principles of the medical field. Here, you'll find everything from discussions about emerging medical technologies to advances in medical research. The blog's owner, Chelsey H, is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) with a degree in Biomedical Engineering.

Previous in Blog: All You Need Is a Good Scare   Next in Blog: Sponge For Science
Close
Close
Close
14 comments

Scared Of Math

Posted November 06, 2012 2:57 PM by Chelsey H

As an engineer, I've never been scared of math. Dislike it at times? Yes. Use my calculator for easy equations? Definitely. But I've never been scared. For some people, math anxiety prompts a brain response similar to that of physical pain.

People with high math anxiety tend to avoid math-related situations and even math-related career paths due to their painful anxiety. Math anxiety can begin as early as first grade and research shows that female elementary school teachers often transmit their math anxiety to their female students.

The University of Chicago has released a report that studied brain scans and determined that the brain areas which active when highly math-anxious people prepare to do math, overlap with the same brain areas that register the threat of bodily harm. The small study, 28 adults, used an fMRI machine to observe the test subjects brain during a math activity. Fourteen of subjects were all predisposed to math anxiety, determined by their responses to a series of questions about math. Additional tests showed that these individuals weren't overly anxious in general.

Image Credit

While in the fMRI, the test subjects were shown basic math equations as well as word problems. The type of problem was indicated by a colored circle. The scans showed that the higher the person's math anxiety, the more anticipation activated the posterior insula, an inner brain region associated with registering direct threats to the body and experiencing pain. There was no pain response when the people were actually doing the problems but scientists have seen neural pain responses caused by thinking about something, such as social rejection, in other studies as well.

Image Credit

"This means that any observed relation between math anxiety and pain would likely be more dependent upon one's feelings and worries about math (i.e., their psychological interpretation or anticipation of the event) than something inherent in the math task itself." Professor Beilock, and Lyons, 2012 PhD graduate, write.

This study demonstrates that those students demonstrating math-anxiety need active help to become more comfortable with the subject, not just additional homework to improve math skills. Simply writing about math anxieties before a test can reduce a student's worries and lead to better performance.

Does math make you nervous?

Resource

Brain Scan Shows That Thinking About Math Is As Painful As A Hot Stove Burn, If You're Anxious

Reply

Interested in this topic? By joining CR4 you can "subscribe" to
this discussion and receive notification when new comments are added.

Comments rated to be "almost" Good Answers:

Check out these comments that don't yet have enough votes to be "official" good answers and, if you agree with them, rate them!
Guru
Hobbies - CNC - New Member Hobbies - DIY Welding - New Member Engineering Fields - Electromechanical Engineering - New Member

Join Date: Aug 2007
Posts: 22714
Good Answers: 411
#1

Re: Scared Of Math

11/06/2012 3:52 PM

My college professor said, "Math is not hard, as long as you reconize the patterns in the sand".

Even though math did not come easy for me, I loved it.

__________________
“ When people get what they want, they are often surprised when they get what they deserve " - James Wood
Reply Score 1 for Good Answer
Guru

Join Date: Aug 2012
Posts: 1064
Good Answers: 92
#2
In reply to #1

Re: Scared Of Math

11/06/2012 4:27 PM

THAT is a darned good description, and a better way of understanding a persons cognization of mathematical concepts than relating it to an IQ measurement.

Reply
Guru
Hobbies - CNC - New Member Hobbies - DIY Welding - New Member Engineering Fields - Electromechanical Engineering - New Member

Join Date: Aug 2007
Posts: 22714
Good Answers: 411
#12
In reply to #2

Re: Scared Of Math

11/07/2012 8:23 AM

Yes, he was also in the reserves, We called him Colonel.

And when he was lecturing about every shape or movement has a mathematical equation to it, he like to use mortar ballistics and such for examples.

One of the students fell a sleep as he was lecturing, he demonstrated what a parabolic curve looked like by throwing an chalkboard eraser at the student.

Everyone stay alert. Because he was very accurate.

__________________
“ When people get what they want, they are often surprised when they get what they deserve " - James Wood
Reply
Guru
Engineering Fields - Optical Engineering - Member Engineering Fields - Engineering Physics - Member Engineering Fields - Systems Engineering - Member

Join Date: Apr 2010
Location: Trantor
Posts: 5363
Good Answers: 646
#3

Re: Scared Of Math

11/06/2012 5:31 PM

"...research shows that female elementary school teachers often transmit their math anxiety to their female students."

I don't understand:

1. Why elementary school teachers (male or female) would have any anxiety about the math they teach. It's elementary math, not advanced calculus, and they've got the teacher's guide book. I have to wonder if they are really qualified to be teachers if they have that level of anxiety.

2. Why there is a greater chance of transmitting math anxiety female-teacher-to-female-student than female-teacher-to-male-student. Does this mean that, even at a very early age, boys are already adept at math? Other stories I've seen imply this separation between the sexes in math ability doesn't occur until high school.

3. Why there isn't the same level of concern for verbal or social anxiety among boys. I see lots of stories about, and references to, studies that have been done about female math anxiety, but I don't recall seeing equivalent numbers of stories or studies about problems boys are facing.

__________________
Whiskey, women -- and astrophysics. Because sometimes a problem can't be solved with just whiskey and women.
Reply
Guru
Popular Science - Weaponology - New Member United Kingdom - Member - New Member

Join Date: May 2007
Location: Harlow England
Posts: 16499
Good Answers: 662
#6
In reply to #3

Re: Scared Of Math

11/07/2012 5:31 AM

Re 1.
C'mon, plenty of elementary (primary) school teachers are teaching a broad base of subject matter some of which may not be their speciality.
They are sometimes on shakey ground and can be caught out by left field question or some kid who does his long division a different way.
I like the Simpsons episode where Bart is asked if he knows long divison. He replies
"I know of long division"
Del

__________________
health warning: These posts may contain traces of nut.
Reply
Guru
United Kingdom - Member - Hearts of Oak Popular Science - Paleontology - New Member Engineering Fields - Mechanical Engineering - New Member

Join Date: May 2005
Location: In the Garden
Posts: 3390
Good Answers: 75
#10
In reply to #6

Re: Scared Of Math

11/07/2012 8:12 AM

Exactly. The transmission is subliminal, unconsciously using the ol' NPL techniques. I've been taught by senior (high) school teachers who start off telling you it's going to be difficult, and darn it, it is. In the UK, most primary teachers are female, so there will be scant info on the effects of male teachers. Do boys take less notice of the emotional content of a female adult's communication? BTW from 7 - 11 yo, my teachers were all male. I found my 90% female high school quite odd.

I was immune to this at primary school, since I could already do most basic maths tasks, up to fractions and percentages. Dividing 3 or 4 digit numbers into huge strings of digits was my idea of fun!

The best piece of advice I was given was by one of those men when he taught the "paying back" method of subtraction, whilst I was comfortable with the "borrowing" method. I kinda ignored the lessons and did the sums, then asked afterwards why his worked. He showed me, and then said, "But if you understand your way, just you carry on using it. There is always more than one way to get to the answer." Applies not just to maths!

I think the biggest help to all children is to approach each subject and topic with a Bob the Builder* attitude: Can we do it? Yes we can.

.

*He was saying it long before Two-Term Obama

__________________
Chaos always wins because it's better organised.
Reply
Guru

Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: Earth - I think.
Posts: 2143
Good Answers: 165
#4

Re: Scared Of Math

11/06/2012 6:21 PM

Me? I have always had fun with math problems. My daughter? Not so much. Her favorite math song is "Math Suks" by Jimmy Buffet.

The thing that I noticed while tutoring her, was that when she first came across a new problem, it automatically took on the proportions of Mount Everest, in her mind. The biggest problem in teaching her how to solve those problems, was getting her to do each individual step, then write down the results like a fresh problem before continuing to the next step. She already knew the operations (add, sub, mul, div), she already knew about associative and distributive properties, she just needed to put blinders on, and solve each step individually. When she finally mastered that, she passed her senior year algebra test the first time around.

__________________
TANSTAAFL (If you don't know what that means, Google it - yourself)
Reply
Guru

Join Date: May 2007
Location: Geelong, Australia
Posts: 1084
Good Answers: 54
#5

Re: Scared Of Math

11/06/2012 11:20 PM

Maths is hard!

It involves learning new and complicated techniques, deeply thinking about problems and developing technical skills and accuracy. That's why it''s such a good predictor of success in every other academic field.

Most people understand that artistic, literary or sporting success requires hard work but, for some unknown reason, they expect Maths to just fall into their lap.

Most modern secondary school maths exams are designed so you'll pass if you know the basics, but if you don't then it's impossible to bluff your way through, unlike most humanities subjects.

Personally, I stopped getting nervous when I started doing the work.

__________________
If there's something you don't understand...Then a wizard did it. As heard on "The Simpsons".
Reply
Guru

Join Date: Apr 2010
Location: About 4000 miles from the center of the earth (+/-100 mi)
Posts: 9090
Good Answers: 1036
#7
In reply to #5

Re: Scared Of Math

11/07/2012 6:01 AM

Maths is hard!

Calculus comes from the latin word for pebble. Rocks are hard, so why shouldn't math be?

Reply
Guru
Popular Science - Weaponology - New Member United Kingdom - Member - New Member

Join Date: May 2007
Location: Harlow England
Posts: 16499
Good Answers: 662
#8
In reply to #5

Re: Scared Of Math

11/07/2012 6:33 AM

That's why it''s such a good predictor of success in every other academic field.
WALOOB
Plenty of people who excel in a particular field are hopeless at maths.
Mind it depends on how you define maths and an ability therein.
I consider myself poor at maths, but then most people would probably think I was fairly good...
Most people don't know the difference between Maths and Arithmetic.
Even on so called scientific programs they butcher statistics...
On a program the other day they said that shuffling a pack of cards was certain to produce a sequence which has never occurred before in the history of the universe... total bilge, as the next shuffle could produce an idential sequence, extremely unlikely, but possible. And if the quality of your product depended on it not happening, you could be sure it would!
Whoops, rambled off a bit there.... baaaaad kitty
Del

__________________
health warning: These posts may contain traces of nut.
Reply
Guru

Join Date: May 2007
Location: Geelong, Australia
Posts: 1084
Good Answers: 54
#13
In reply to #8

Re: Scared Of Math

11/07/2012 4:43 PM

I didn't say it's the only way to be a success.

__________________
If there's something you don't understand...Then a wizard did it. As heard on "The Simpsons".
Reply
Guru
Hobbies - Fishing - Old Salt Hobbies - CNC - New Member United States - US - Statue of Liberty - New Member

Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: Rosedale, Maryland USA
Posts: 5198
Good Answers: 266
#9

Re: Scared Of Math

11/07/2012 7:23 AM

We try to teach our kids at an early age their numbers and letters. Then to read some before they enter school. Most of that is recognition. Math takes some reasoning.

I thank my father that was his gift to me. He would give me math problems to do when he came home from work. A game that I soon learned to excel at. By the time I started school I could add, subtract, multiply and divided.

So I have no anxiety about doing math. Maybe some frustration when I'm not getting the answer I want.

__________________
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving in a pretty, pristine body but rather to come sliding in sideways, all used up and exclaiming, "Wow, what a ride!"
Reply
Guru
Canada - Member - New Member Popular Science - Cosmology - New Member Hobbies - Musician - New Member

Join Date: Dec 2010
Location: Up North
Posts: 540
Good Answers: 30
#11
In reply to #9

Re: Scared Of Math

11/07/2012 8:22 AM

"Maybe some frustration when I'm not getting the answer I want."

Then you should be a scientist!

I remember struggling through calculus in college. I asked my prof how he knew he had the right answer. His answer was "You just know it, Steve. You feel it." I could design columns, roofs, walls and slabs all day long with confidence, but give me a calculus problem and I couldn't "feel" it.

__________________
Steve of the North...since 1962.
Reply
Power-User

Join Date: Oct 2012
Posts: 104
Good Answers: 5
#14

Re: Scared Of Math

11/24/2012 5:20 PM

Some math makes me nervous, when it is complicated or when it is important to get it right quickly. So I check myself over and over, and sometimes that hurt my tests because I ran out of time. But as I gain experience I get less nervous.

I never get scared enough not to attempt to figure out a math problem. But I ran into scared students when I taught at a business school (EET equivalent program). Some students just shut down and refused to try, convinced that they couldn't do it. By breaking equations into pieces and with encouragement I could get most of them over it. You could see new self-confidence grow in some of them. But a few stubbornly stayed closed, and they flunked out. It was a shame when that happened, because every one of those flunk-outs had demonstrated to me that they could become successful electronic techs (outside of the math). But we can't be good at everything, so if you can't do something don't dwell on that failure - find what you are good at and pursue that.

Reply
Reply to Blog Entry 14 comments
Interested in this topic? By joining CR4 you can "subscribe" to
this discussion and receive notification when new comments are added.

Comments rated to be "almost" Good Answers:

Check out these comments that don't yet have enough votes to be "official" good answers and, if you agree with them, rate them!
Copy to Clipboard

Users who posted comments:

Del the cat (2); English Rose (1); ferd (1); ffej (2); JNB (1); Kilowatt0 (1); ozzb (1); phoenix911 (2); Rixter (1); Steve of the North (1); Usbport (1)

Previous in Blog: All You Need Is a Good Scare   Next in Blog: Sponge For Science

Advertisement