De-Stressing the Stress From Math Research Paper

De-Stressing the Stress From Math

Arithmetic is a core rudiment of academia and spells academic and vocational success for many. Even those who do not need skill in arithmetic to progress with their career do need high grades in arithmetic to succeed in school. Unfortunately, for many, these high grades are almost unobtainable by the debilitating presence of math anxiety. Math anxiety is, in fact, so common that there is even a special word for it: Mathematics-Learning Distress (MALEI, 2006). About 85% of students studied in Perry (2004) in introductory math classes claimed to experience at least mild math anxiety. This experience seems to have a history that goes back to the earliest of formative child education since Jackson and Leffingwell (1999) found that only 7% of their 157 students actually had pleasant experiences related to math from their beginning the subject. Meanwhile, 27% of the respondents accumulated math anxiety during their freshman college years, with dropout from math courses — even remediation ones — being as high as 25% per semester, with only one or two students actually completing the remediation (McCabe, 2003). Math anxiety is prevalent on and off college campuses, but to some the deficiency is so adversely impacting that they have compared it to losing a limb (“Mathophobia may be compared with the loss of one of the primary senses” (Hilton, 1980, p. 175). Yet dealing with and understanding math anxiety is important for instructors and parents in order to help their child succeed in the challenging subject. It is important for the student and individual self-learner, too. This is where this essay steps in tracing math anxiety to its root, advocating that math anxiety is debilitating and presenting strategies for dealing with it.

Origin of Math Anxiety

The interesting thing is that math anxiety could actually be neurologically related. Two years ago, researchers (Young et al., 2011) in Stanford University conducted neuroimages of 46 2nd and 3rd graders who had low and high mathematical anxiety and discovered exaggerated motion in the neural region of those who felt anxiety whilst doing their some mathematical calculation. The increased anxiety in the brain regions (the intensified activity) prevented clear thinking from occurring naturally preventing the kids from achieving the attention that was necessary for success in their work.

The study had the children perfectly matched in terms of IQ levels, working memory, math and reading abilities and levels of general anxiety. The participants filled out a survey that focused on their level of math anxiety after which the students did addition and subtraction math problems while the researchers conducted functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans. MRI results showed that the amygdala ( emotional neural region linked with fear) and hippocampus (the region involved with memory) both showed enhanced activity in the children who felt anxiety whilst neural regions concerned with procedural memory and number reasoning showed decreased activity. The researchers also discovered, outside of the brain scan, that children with math anxiety worked less accurately and more slowly on problems than did other children who lacked this anxiety.

Math anxiety is not so much detestation of the subject; it is feeling anxiety, stress, and other tense feelings when in contact with the subject. But the two have a feedback effect. According to Daniel Ansari, principal investigator for the Numerical Cognition Laboratory at the University of Western Ontario:

“When engaged in mathematical problem-solving, highly math-anxious individuals suffer from intrusive thoughts and ruminations. This takes up some of their processing and working memory. It’s very much as though individuals with math anxiety use up the brainpower they need for the problem” on stressing out. (Chan, 2013)

The research showed mathematical anxiety to be lodged in the head but the question nonetheless is: may the neural activity spikes not be a consequence of the anxiety in the first case? And may this anxiety not be an expected response on the student’s part form previous mathematical experience? In other words, May it not is possible to prevent this neural spike by preempting and removing the anxiety even before it occurs and by, thereby, enabling clear procedural thinking and mathematical literacy?

This is what the following section discusses.

Strategies for Reducing Mathematical Anxiety

As part of her Master’s thesis, Laura Iassi conducted intensive research on the subject surveying strategies used and strategies that may be particularly effective using scientific research as her locus.

Her list of strategies for reducing math anxiety categorized the whole into three parts:

(a) curricular strategies, such as retesting, self-paced learning, distance education, single-sex classes, and math anxiety courses,

Curricular strategies are those offered by colleges in an attempt to allay the stress. These include retesting where the student is allowed to retake the test and self-paced students who paced their own learning. Distance courses, too, may alleviate the stress for the same reason (students are in control) whilst single sex courses reduce the stress of competitiveness. Math anxiety courses meanwhile do show some effect (although literature on their efficacy is sparse).

(b) instructional strategies, such as manipulatives, technology, self-regulation techniques, and communication,

Some schools approach the problem in its initiatus before the problem develops to anything more severe hiring special teachers who frequently use manipulatives as ‘cure’. The manipulatives are hands-on devices that seem to be more effective than simply sitting and taking notes. Students are playing with something and the manipulative make the learning more real and fun.

Technology is also helpful as well as self-regulated learning where again students are in control. Finally, communication is crucial in all categories where the teaching style and empathy of the instructor can make or break success of the topic

(c) Non-instructional strategies, such as relaxation therapy and psychological treatment. Sometimes, interventions for mathaphobia precede form outside the classroom depending on their intensity and amount of disruption. This is where psychological treatment comes in and can be in behavioral and cognitive as well as other form.

Relaxation therapy includes Meditation, yoga, and psychotherapy each of which seems to significantly decrease the anxiety. Psychological treatment, in short, shows a greater impact when applied out of class rather than within.


Math anxiety is a common phenomenon; some may style it a disease that inflicts so many individuals from children upwards to adults. The ramifications of this impediment are most deleterious for individuals who have to study the subject in order to obtain passing, or excellent grades in it, in order to move on to further subjects and success. Academic researchers have proposed a variety of interventions each of which can be reducible to three categories: curricular strategies, instructional strategies, and non-instructional strategies. A running thread though most seems to be the need for the student to control her own direction. Preventing mathematical anxiety can liberate the brain from the learning disablement of procedural memory that only intensifies the cycle of mathematical failure. In order to achieve this, however, it needs a synchronic attempt where the community, instructors, and parents collaborate in working on the handicap. It needs all of us to realize that not only is math anxiety debilitating but that we can work on it to resolve it using various strategies. Only then, will be more kids be able to say “I love math.”


Chan, A (2013) Math Anxiety Linked With Differences In Brain Functioning, Study Finds . Huffingtom Post

Jackson, C.D., & Leffingwell, R.J. (1999). The role of instructors in creating math anxiety in students form kindergarten through college. Mathematics Teacher, 92(7), 583-586.

MALEI Mathematics Institute. (2005). Mathematics-learning distress.

Perry, A.B. (2004). Decreasing math anxiety in college students. College Student Journal, 38(2), 321-324

Iossi, L (nd) Strategies for Reducing Math Anxiety in Post-Secondary Students

Young, CB et al., (2011) The Neurodevelopmental Basis of Math Anxiety Psychological Science, 24, 3

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