Maths anxiety is believed to affect about one in four of us, the equivalent of more than 2 million children in England – and many teachers too. A feature in The Guardian, written by a mother whose daughter suffers from maths anxiety, shows how devastating its effects can be. Read more and have your say.
Maths anxiety was identified in the 1950, but it’s only now that researchers at Stanford University in America have scanned the brains of children with the condition to see what’s going on. They have discovered that the children respond to maths with increased activity in the brain’s fear centres – in the same way as someone with a phobia about creepy crawlies would. The knock-on effect from this is less activity in the brain’s problem-solving areas, making it even more difficult to come up with the right mathematical answer.
Professor Vinod Menon, who led the research, said the findings are important because they shows that maths anxiety is real: “It cannot be wished away. It needs to be attended to and treated if it persists.”
Although the condition is now recognised, there are no formal ways of diagnosing when worrying about maths becomes full-blown ‘maths anxiety’. Telling a child that they have it isn’t helpful and can be counterproductive – what’s needed is the right support to give the child confidence in their abilities. Peter Lacey from the Association of Teachers of Mathematics says teachers can be constrained by our target- and attainment-driven system: “The pressures to get children to a particular level in tests at 11 can mean teaching them tricks to get good outcomes, rather than making sure they are confident in their understanding.”
Are you amongst the 25% of us who suffer from maths anxiety? If so, how do you cope? We’d love to hear your experiences and any tips for overcoming your fears.