For math-phobic, numbers pose threat of pain, study says
October 31st, 2012
05:01 PM ET

For math-phobic, numbers pose threat of pain, study says

You're at a big group dinner and it's time to pay up, to divide the total and multiply a certain percentage for the tip. How many people tense up and say something like, "Oh, I'm so bad at math"?

Fear of math is everywhere - in the adult world where there aren't official pop quizzes, and in schools where the next generation of scientific problem-solvers are struggling with homework.

Researchers report in a new study in the journal PLoS One that this anxiety about mathematics triggers the same brain activity that's linked with the physical sensation of pain.

"I’m really interested in understanding the source of the anxiety so that we can help all students perform up to their best in this important area," says Sian Beilock, a University of Chicago researcher and one of the study's authors, who is also the author of the book “Choke.”

How they did it

Beilock and colleagues found 28 people - 14 with high math anxiety and 14 with low math anxiety - to explore what happens in the brain when confronted with potentially fearful math problems. Although this is a small sample size, it is not unusual for psychology experiments that involve functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which is a costly procedure.

The participants were asked to complete word problems and math problems while in the fMRI scanner. Before each task, a cue would appear indicating what type of problem (word or math) was going to come up next.

It was this anticipatory phase that interested the researchers.

What they found

When the participants with high anxiety about math saw that they would be presented with a math problem, researchers saw that these people had activation in the same neural areas associated with physical threats and bodily harm.

"It grounds the phenomenon in the evolutionarily ancient pain system that we often rely on when we are physically harmed," Beilock said.

This study did not find a gender difference, although other studies show that when it comes to anxiety about math ability, women show higher levels of worry than men, she said.


Obviously this is a small study, so further research is necessary to confirm the conclusions. Also the study showed an association between anticipating an event and a brain region, but this does not prove that one causes the other.

It does seem to be the case, though, that in American culture, math anxiety or lack of math skill is socially acceptable and commonplace, unlike other areas of study, Beilock said.

"You don't walk around bragging oftentimes that you can't read, but people often talk about how they're not number people or they hate math."

But people perform better when they don't view math as a scary subject. As to how to deal with anxiety, Beilock has also done research on that.

She led a 2011 study showing that writing about your anxieties before a test may actually improve your performance. She and colleagues tried the idea on kids in a ninth-grade biology class, and showed that the anxious kids who did the writing exercise tended to score better on a test.

soundoff (158 Responses)
  1. thedpr

    Your link to the study is dead. Care to update with a link that works? It would be interesting to see if they actually asked the participants why they were anxious, and if they report the responses.

    Tips are easy, btw. Just calculate 10% of the amount by moving the decimal place to the left one spot and round to whatever you're comfortable with. To get to 15%, add 1/2 of the amount, and to get to 20%, just double it.

    October 31, 2012 at 18:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SampleIsSmall

      Okay, any study/report/article that uses a sampling of 24 individuals to make a general statement is full of BS. MRI's are expensive, but, generalizing based on 24 individuals and then blasting the results on a CNN web article is pure speculation. I can't believe the University of Chicago (with tuition rates over $50,000 a year) could not find more money to study this further before releasing these claims! Sian Beilock, a University of Chicago researcher and one of the study's authors, who is also the author of the book “Choke.” Sian must be interested in selling her book!

      October 31, 2012 at 22:48 | Report abuse |
    • elandau

      Hi, I updated the study link.
      Thanks for reading!
      Elizabeth Landau, CNN.com

      November 1, 2012 at 11:41 | Report abuse |
    • Gordio

      They start off small, and go big. The article even mentions that before you make solid conclusions to note it's a small sample size.

      November 2, 2012 at 12:11 | Report abuse |
    • fyre

      @SampleIsSmall – it's just a pilot study, probably to get funding for a larger study. Although the research is conducted at a university, universities don't directly fund research like this – this must have been either government or privately funded.

      November 3, 2012 at 11:26 | Report abuse |
  2. a slozomby

    if you cant figure out how much to tip in your head you should not have made it out of elementary school.

    October 31, 2012 at 18:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • whackywaco

      You would be surprised how many cashiers rely on the cash register to tell them how much change to give a person. If cost is $3.51 and you give them $5 they ring it up on the register. Then pull out a penny to even the amount of change and it blows their mind. You have to tell them the change is $1.50.

      October 31, 2012 at 18:43 | Report abuse |
    • HettieS

      I have a learning disability called Dyscalculia which is a sister disorder to Dyslexia and I made it through elementary school and am adult. Unfortunately, I did not have the benefit of being tested when I was a child. Luckily, children are able to be tested earlier on in life for this learning disability. You can make it all the way through high school and have Dyscalculia; I did. Did I struggle? Absolutely. Dyscalculia is not as well known as Dyslexia and not identified as readily either. It is very easy to pick up if someone cannot read, but if they are not good at math, its not as simple.

      October 31, 2012 at 19:34 | Report abuse |
    • darth cheney

      Then we'd have about 150 million Americans perpetually in elementary school. Think your property taxes are bad now?

      October 31, 2012 at 19:50 | Report abuse |
    • MC

      "You have to tell them the change is $1.50."

      Uh, the change in that case is $1.49. Wow.

      November 2, 2012 at 20:24 | Report abuse |
    • Drewville

      Totally agree with you slozomby, but then again we are likely in the 50% that have no problem with such things, yet alone getting anxious about it. I love doing "math in my head". I wonder how many children today will ever enjoy that or cultivate that skill with a smart phone in their hand.

      November 2, 2012 at 22:44 | Report abuse |
    • JTM

      Hey, MC, you might want to talk to a third grader before you post a mocking answer. It just makes you look stupid.

      $5.01 amount paid ($5.00 plus the penny that wacky added)
      $3.51 amount charged
      $1.50 change given


      November 3, 2012 at 06:44 | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      @MC, No, the change is 1.50. In the scenario, given the original poster said that they gave an extra penny to even it out. One other problem the world faces is people not paying attention. Pay attention.

      November 3, 2012 at 19:08 | Report abuse |
  3. whackywaco

    1 and 1 and 1 is 3. JoJo has feet below his knees.

    October 31, 2012 at 18:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. eroteme

    'Researchers' have presented us with another of their 'studies'. How fortunate we are! Can hardly wait for the next one!

    October 31, 2012 at 18:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. John S.

    I can figure out 53 X 3 = 159 in my head but beyond two digits I loose track of the numbers. Of course my phone has a calculator so I know to X the tip by .15 or .20 if the service is good 😉

    October 31, 2012 at 19:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ERG

      Multiply bill by .10 by moving the decimal point one space to the left. That's 10%. ie; bill is 37.43, then you'll have 3.74.
      Now add half-again as much to the 3.74: add about half of .25 cents three times to 1.50 (half of 3.00).
      So add 1.86 to 3.74. That's 5.74 minus fourteen cents for 5.60. Why not give 'em the extra 40 cents?
      This is not exact to the decimal penny... but..

      November 3, 2012 at 11:59 | Report abuse |
    • CatSh

      I make it even easier. I used to be a waitress, so I always tip 20% unless the service was bad.
      Si I just tip $1 for each $5 purchased. If the meal was $28.53, I round to $30 and divide by 5 – $6 tip. Drop a dollar or two for bad service.
      When I was a waitress, I often ran the register. I don't even consider counting out change to be math.

      November 5, 2012 at 13:37 | Report abuse |
  6. Glenn

    Waco --– Sorry its a 1.49.

    October 31, 2012 at 19:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Eric

      No he pulled out a penny so he paid 5.01.... When I was in college I did this all the time with customers it was fun to explain to them the change and blow their mind.

      October 31, 2012 at 19:33 | Report abuse |
    • Reread

      Waco is giving $5.01 to get $1.50 back as change.

      October 31, 2012 at 19:34 | Report abuse |
    • sharoom

      Glenn, waco just blew your mind

      October 31, 2012 at 21:14 | Report abuse |
    • JTM


      Read it again. Do the math. Go ahead......we'll wait.

      (Hint: the answer is $1.50. I didn't want you to hurt yourself.)

      November 3, 2012 at 06:47 | Report abuse |
  7. Eric

    This is just plain sad.... Math is not hard. Everything all the way through Calculus is chump change. No wonder America is falling behind we have trained ourselves to feel pain at the thought of having to make a simple tip...

    October 31, 2012 at 19:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • hawkechik

      Spoken like someone who has no problem with it for sure. In 6th grade I was reading at senior high school level; I was however only able to function at a 3rd grade level in math and I still, 45 years later, struggle with it.

      October 31, 2012 at 20:07 | Report abuse |
    • byutsmith89

      I agree with you that simple math shouldn't cause anxiety, but you have to take into consideration that everyone is different; one person's strengths can be another's weaknesses. Ever given a presentation? You spend your whole life speaking and talking but when put on the spot still become nervous and mix up words. Ask anyone who plays a musical instrument and has had to perform in front of a big audience – there's been anxiety. Then of course there are people who don't become nervous for either of those things. It's one of their strengths. Everyone is different – remember that when you botch something and someone thinks you're sad.

      October 31, 2012 at 20:17 | Report abuse |
    • lawrencewinkler

      Math is hard if one is not knowledgable enough. However, we're not talking about "math" here but basic multi-step arithmetic. To say math is not hard is really to say that this level of facility is very much within the ability of almost everyone. It's a education issue, both from the teachers/curriculum not addressing the pedagogy correctly, and the students who do not apply themselves to learn what is imminently learnable.

      October 31, 2012 at 22:21 | Report abuse |
    • ram

      Bully for you that it isn't for you. I can speak in front of hundreds with no nerves, my test scores on every subject except math are great, but math is a challenge for me. I had teachers who hated it when I was a kid, got boxed into thinking ways I don't think instead of being allowed to do math in my head (and I got the answers correct), and ended up with a block toward it and lost interest. Many people who don't care for math or have difficulty with it are otherwise educated and intelligent people.

      I would say also that some on here who have decided that all people who aren't great at math are lazy are a bit clueless. Some are, and some have problems with it, so how about we do our best and realize that everyone isn't going to be good at everything. That is a good thing since we also need workers in other areas as well. I agree that it is sad that so many have problems with it and how many can't count back change or do simple problems, but we all think differently. I think in words, facts, pictures, and feelings, and my spouses thinks in numbers, graphs, and percentages, so we complement each other. Who wants everyone to be exactly the same? Ick.

      November 2, 2012 at 16:22 | Report abuse |
    • rasko41

      Just transform the check into the frequency domain, rotate the resulting complex frequency spectrum by the appropriate phase angle, and transform back to the time domain, and you're done! 15% tip calculated effortlessly!

      November 3, 2012 at 10:38 | Report abuse |
    • SixDegrees

      There's a difference, though, between math and arithmetic. Lots of people are quite good at one but not the other.

      November 5, 2012 at 03:02 | Report abuse |
  8. MCR

    I'd like to see whether kids are more stressed who took classes with mixed-ability level students. Today school are lumping kids together in one class who vary in ability by several years of math skills. Despite the original good intentions, I would imagine this would makes the poorer performing kids feel helplessly behind while boring the faster kids to the point of feeling their own pain.

    October 31, 2012 at 19:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. DDM

    Hello? ANY anxiety is similar to pain! Anxiety is inherently unpleasant – duh!

    October 31, 2012 at 19:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. MalibuChick

    Math Anxiety??? What a cry baby generation. I know people who have been diagnosed with Learning Disabilities such as "test anxiety" as well. What a crock...it's called nerves. People cannot handle anything without it being called a disorder. It is called being human. Some are better at things than others, just like some people can run faster than others. Get over it and buck up!

    October 31, 2012 at 20:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • rasko41

      Sounds like you are pretty comfortable with math. Can you explain to me why my frequency-domain filter keeps violating causality?

      November 3, 2012 at 10:40 | Report abuse |
  11. Hetereotic

    Math is easy and fun, but Americans do not want to know more than today's sports scores.

    October 31, 2012 at 20:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ram

      To you it is and I am happy for you. Some great mathematicians aren't good readers, so we can all respect each other's abilities.

      November 2, 2012 at 16:24 | Report abuse |
  12. Disgusted

    The fact that someone bothered with this study disgusts me and says so much about our society. Everyone's brains are turning to mush from watching garbage like MTV more than they read or study. I see some people posting on here that they read/write well but just never got math. Well i'm sorry but if that's the case then you are stupid. It's true that reading and writing are different... they are much less demanding. People who are intelligent are good at both and don't understand the fuss over either one. Eric, you're right. Math is cake through calculus but most people barely get through trig.

    October 31, 2012 at 20:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bitty

      As a linguistic genius who scored consistently in the 99% in verbal tests and breezed through a Master's of Linguistics from an Ivy League school as well as a career as a writer, all while having scored throughout school in the below 30% in math tests and to this day having extreme discomfort when confronted with the possibility of having to compute anything, I take issue with your feeling that anyone who has a one-sided intellectual capacity is stupid. I am decidedly below average in math, particularly in conceptual math, but I'd love to see if you with your well-balanced intellect could come anywhere near my skills in writing or learning languages or reading comprehension or logic. I recognize I am not at all a well-balanced individual intellectually and am at times embarrassed of my paucity of skill with numbers and that at times I can come off as an idiot savant, but one half of that term is savant. Someone who knows things above and beyond the norm is not stupid just because he or she can't perform equally well across the board.

      November 2, 2012 at 14:43 | Report abuse |
    • ram

      Perhaps you should learn the meaning of being intelligent before you say such inaccurate things. A person can be brilliant at several subjects or one subject and weaker in others, but still be intelligent. And being intelligent doesn't mean you don't have reading or math learning problems. Perhaps you might try educating yourself on the topic before posting about how others aren't intelligent..lol.

      November 2, 2012 at 16:12 | Report abuse |
    • rasko41

      Maybe you could impress us all with your math skills by reformulating your comment in a wavelet basis.

      November 3, 2012 at 10:42 | Report abuse |
    • ERG

      Disgusted sounds like part of the 53%.
      Bitty – From a wanna-be numbers science guy; Well said.

      November 3, 2012 at 11:33 | Report abuse |
  13. Larry

    Beavis: "Numbers suck."

    Butthead: "Yeah. There's like....too many of them and stuff."

    October 31, 2012 at 21:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • James

      Yes, sure. Students in America are lazy. They don't want to memorize formulas, neither they practice in math. Of course they will say: I hate math. There are so many of them that even though don't know how much is (-2) + (-4) and are dumb in math, they still are millionaire. Only in America you become rich without graduating from the high school. Look at the emigrants' children how hard they work and never fear math. American born children are spoiled, lazy, and never mature till they reach 30 years old.

      October 31, 2012 at 21:58 | Report abuse |
    • Cameron

      Hey James, dont knock us for our math skills and we won't knock you for your awful grammar. Hope you're having fun in your lesser country d-bag.

      October 31, 2012 at 22:42 | Report abuse |
    • rasko41

      Math is never about memorizing formulas. Sure, a few go to memory by repeated use, but memorization without full conceptual understanding is worthless.

      November 3, 2012 at 10:43 | Report abuse |
    • SixDegrees

      "They don't want to memorize formulas, neither they practice in math. "

      Rote learning is not understanding.

      November 5, 2012 at 03:06 | Report abuse |
  14. Boredom

    I noticed we didn't hear from Glenn again................................

    October 31, 2012 at 21:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. bill

    Perhaps your mom did not hit you with a Hot Wheels track and keep you up until 0330 to do math homework. Never mind you don't understand it, JUST DO IT!!! WHACK!! Yeah, the 70's were different.

    October 31, 2012 at 21:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Old Age is weird

    Oddly, I got better at my weakest subject (Math) as I aged, I think I calmed down and realized all my anxiety was because
    I forged ahead in high school getting mired in deeper confusion because I glossed over "steps." Once you lose your
    way, you can't fake it; it'll add to misery, feelings of defeat and confusion. Just backing up, going over what you didn't
    understand over and over, relieves anxiety.

    I still get anxiety ridden when I have to figure out a tip if the food service stank- I feel like I was already cheated and
    I gotta tie my own noose around my neck.

    October 31, 2012 at 22:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dood

      I used to fear math because I didn't "get it" most of time. But like you, as I aged and as my brain had time to absorb the concepts without it being crammed due to time constraints, I enjoy math now. I think people learn at different rates and too much too soon does a lot of damage to that person's learning process. I think the way most schools teach is outdated, too. They're better than when I was a child, though.

      I was an average to below average math person, but now, I'm the one who figures out the tip and it's really a breeze. I even enjoy doing algebra now because I don't HAVE to. Go figure, pun intended.

      November 3, 2012 at 23:28 | Report abuse |
  17. ArchieDeBunker

    If the people who funded this study paid more than $1.15, they didn't get their money's worth.

    October 31, 2012 at 22:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. AJ

    I am part of a tutoring company (www.mystudydorm.com) and we have a bunch of kids that think math is impossible. But I feel once they start understanding the basic concepts and a few tricks add/sub is a piece of cake for them. Practice makes your math perfect.

    October 31, 2012 at 22:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Spijder

    There isn't a suggestion that math is 'hard', but that there is a real stress reaction to it that many people experience. It doesn't sound much different than how some people test well until there is any suggestion of a time limit then they just freeze right up. Having this 'painful' reaction is no reflection on either intelligence or ability, it is just a stress-born stumbling block that makes it feel much more difficult than it would if the stress was not there.

    October 31, 2012 at 22:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Cameron

    People hate math because, for the majority of us, we don't need anything more than moderate to advanced algebra. Sure if you are going to be a scientist or engineer, you need to know complex math. For the rest of us, it's a frustrating waste of time.

    October 31, 2012 at 22:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Mike

    That which does not kill me makes me stronger! Get over the pain of developing abstract reasoning and math skills. It will aid you in life. We are becoming a nation of intellectual woosies!

    October 31, 2012 at 22:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. SampleIsSmall

    Okay, any study/report/article that uses a sampling of 24 individuals to make a general statement is full of BS. MRI's are expensive, but, generalizing based on 24 individuals and then blasting the results on a CNN web article is pure speculation. I can't believe the University of Chicago (with tuition rates over $50,000 a year) could not find more money to study this further before releasing these claims!

    October 31, 2012 at 22:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. jameslabvile

    While math is essential to life. It isn't being taught in a way that benefits most people. Most people will not go into the scientific or engineering fields, yet there is a new train of thought that everyone should have math and science training as if everyone is going to become a worker in these fields. Math needs to be tailored to the jobs that people will be working at. A non-science major doesn't need the math that a scientist would need. A trades person wouldn't need anything outside of what is taught in high school. Math like high algebra, trigonometry, calculus is not math that meets everyday problems in life. I have never even used the algebra or geometry in my work in 40 years. Just business math and general math which included the basic geometry was what I was taught in high school. I have had jobs as an electrician, maintenance man, purchasing manager, and building coordinator., and never used any math other than what I mentioned. I made more money than most college grads make.

    October 31, 2012 at 22:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Althea Sam

      Please understand that the arithmetic is taught in elementary school. How you use the arithmetic is what is taught in middle and high school. The math you say you don't use, you most certainly are. You are not given worksheets in life, you are given problems that need solutions, and you use the algebra and geometry thinking skills you learned later with the arithmetic you learned earlier to solve them. Those that say they don't use math don't always remember where they learned to apply it – and that's most often in middle and high school algebra.

      November 1, 2012 at 14:00 | Report abuse |
  24. dana

    How about fear of biology, is that painful? Or economics, or any other topic?

    October 31, 2012 at 22:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Cameron

      Economics includes math, and I think most people would say complex math is much harder than biology.

      October 31, 2012 at 22:51 | Report abuse |
  25. Hazel Flagg

    As someone with a learning disability, and, I might add, a math-phobic for more years than probably most of you have been alive, I find all the negative commenting about this study particularly offensive. Granted, the sample size is ridiculously small. However, many of you are not taking into account that there may be underlying reasons for peoples' anxiety. We all can't be perfect like MalibuChick, Disgusted and James. I have no problem with arithmetic, which is what most of you are talking about. It is the more abstract mathematical concepts I have spent decades trying to decipher. I can't grasp them. Period. Does that make me "dumb in math?" Hell no, James, not by any stretch of the imagination. I'm sure there are areas in which I excel far beyond you. Take grammar for example...

    October 31, 2012 at 23:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Althea Sam

    We are all different. Some have talents where others don't. God made us that way to help the world function. What each of us need to do is our very best! I believe that some are more anxious about certain things (could be driving in city traffic for some of us, doing math for others, or speaking in front of a group for many others). Accept each other as they are, do your best and help others to do their best, and appreciate the differences.

    November 1, 2012 at 13:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Numb-erz

    I used to cry at the dinner table for hours trying to work division problems with mom shaking her head saying, "It's easy, why don't you understand it!" Ironically, I can do long division but short baffles me. Fractions also gave me a complex and today I still can't help my siblings with it! When I look at the cash register screen and my cash on hand, my eyes glaze over and brain spaces out. I always needed summer school because I would fail math classes all the way through college. Only a few classes I did well in and that was because the teachers treated us like 5 year-olds; baby steps! They were infinitely patient and understanding. My fear is still there but I've gotten along fine so far and I always have my cell phone when in doubt 🙂

    November 1, 2012 at 16:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Om

    Elementary School teachers knowingly or unknowingly are the main source of this problem of math phobia...math and science get step-motherly treatment in almost all public elementary schools....it's a vicious circle caused by the limited competence of the teachers in these subjects, caused by their own limited elementary education...

    November 1, 2012 at 16:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Lisa

    It's been a perpetual problem with me for most of my 51 years. Struggled greatly with it in school but soared in English, reading, etc.; in fact, reading at a 12th grade level in fourth grade. I went on to become an English teacher and journalist. When I visualize numbers in my head, there is something akin to a memory block...I just don't "see" them correctly. On paper, it's slightly better, but higher formulas were/are very difficult. I relied on computer programs for grade calculations and percentages. I'd love to take a basic college course in math now with no pressures to succeed and see how I do. It may surprise me.

    November 1, 2012 at 19:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Fe-line

      I too have had the same experience with numbers. I am educated to the Master's level and employed as a professional. When returning to school, after not going to college right away because I was fearful of more math, I took a class called "Math Is Not A Spectator Sport". The class was invaluable.

      November 1, 2012 at 22:29 | Report abuse |
  30. GRE Student

    I am preparing for the GRE test right now and my preparation does NOT lead to an increase in self-confidence. I am no native and therefore I wonder what American students must endure in their SAT test and before. Probably the tasks are full of traps which might explain a certain anxiety to make mistakes. Just a guess....

    November 1, 2012 at 20:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. James Mulhern

    Fascinating connection between math and pain sensation in the brain. I think it would be a great idea for all educators to take classes about the brain and its relationship to learning. There are some great books available on the brain. Check out the authors Richard Restak, Steven Johnson, Robert Ornstein, Joseph LeDoux, and Daniel Pink for starters.

    James Mulhern, http://www.synthesizingeducation.net

    November 1, 2012 at 23:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. luckyponytoo

    Everyone gets all up-in-arms about how hard (and apparently painful) math is. However, I always loved math, so that was never a problem. It was a joy to me. On the other hand, poetry is something I have never been able to wrap my head around, so reading and writing poetry was always torture for me. I don't think the anxiety has ANYTHING to do with math itself...it's just having to do (and more importantly-be judged on) something you aren't good at.

    November 2, 2012 at 11:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. SilentBoy741

    That's a lot of money to spend just to prove that math gives some people a headache.

    November 2, 2012 at 12:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. pavlov

    Or maybe when they were kids their parents beat them for not doing their math homework. Correlation does not imply causation.

    November 2, 2012 at 13:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. jrvinnh

    I had problems with math in high school. But when I got out into industry as a professional and started using calculators and computers to do the math and I began applying the math to real world problems, suddenly it all became easy and made sense.

    Crunching the numbers and how you do it isn't the main thing. It's understanding the concepts and knowing how to make the numbers relate to things in the real world. Then you just let a calculator or computer do the grunt work of adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing.

    November 2, 2012 at 20:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. EchoAgent1

    I got horrible math grades in school, it was pain !! and yes i was an anxious person. ironically my job now is 90% math oriented ( trig – algebra even physics ) Now i find it rather easy and cant fathom why i had so much truble in school. I think it was that most math teachers are BORING, i mean most people dont like math because its math they need a reason to do it.

    November 2, 2012 at 20:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. eb

    I peaked at pre-calculus and have felt ashamed of my mathematical deficiencies for years, but reading the comments posted on this article, I've realized I'm much more adept at mathematics than I thought. Thanks, everyone! I feel better. 🙂

    November 2, 2012 at 20:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. cja

    I think the problem comes from the way math is taught. Typically we teach kids to recognize the "type" of problem and then apply some memorized set of procedures specific to that type of problem. For many kids they never learn to actually THINK and math is like learning to memorize a phone book

    Testing now is a BIG part of the problem. Teachers are graded by student test scores and the tests do NOT test thinkingthey test how well the kid had memorized. So teachers are forced to "test the test" and the kids don't get as smart as they might.

    You want to fix this? It is easy. Go to the nearest school and ask "how can I help?"

    November 3, 2012 at 01:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. allenwoll

    One reason people have mathematics difficulties is that even numbers and arithmetic were never properly explained to them, let alone basic algebra.

    Everything technical people (not math majors) need to know about the PRINCIPLES and the theory of even advanced math like calculus can be explained in about two weeks - the rest of the 16-week course is typically spent drilling and drilling to attain a skill that few if any will ever need.. Clarity about the concepts is what counts ! !

    November 3, 2012 at 02:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Dr Zen

    Everyone needs to be fluent in basic language skills and basic math skills.

    I hear a lot of people saying, well... I'm really good at writing, and some of those math geniuses suck at writing. That's a cop out if I've ever heard one and untrue as most math geniuses, while not writers in the league of Shakespeare are on the upper side of the median (danger! math term) when it come to language skills.

    People need to be well-rounded. We're not talking about solving differential equations or doing linear optimizations in your head... we're talking about calculating tips! Knowledge of percentages and some awareness of statistics and probability would be nice as well.

    These basic math skills would correspond to the basic language skills of constructing coherent sentences and communicating your basic point to another person.

    November 3, 2012 at 03:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Dr Zen

    Everyone needs to be fluent in basic language skills and basic math skills.

    I hear a lot of people saying, well... I'm really good at writing, and some of those math geniuses suck at writing. That's a cop out if I've ever heard one and untrue as most math geniuses, while not writers in the league of Shakespeare are on the upper side of the median (danger! math term) when it comes to language skills.

    People need to be well-rounded. We're not talking about solving differential equations or doing linear optimizations in your head... we're talking about calculating tips! Knowledge of percentages and some awareness of statistics and probability would be nice as well.

    These basic math skills would correspond to the basic language skills of constructing coherent sentences and communicating your basic point to another person.

    November 3, 2012 at 03:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Katie

      Who says we all have to be good at math? In fact, why should we expect that to be so, given we are individuals with different talents and gifts.

      November 3, 2012 at 17:12 | Report abuse |
  42. Katie

    I cannot do even simple math in my head. Many people dont believe me. I no longer care than I cannot do simple math in my head. Not everyone is the same. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Expecting every student to learn the same thing the same way in the say amount of time is not realistic. The DEMANDS that we learn math and learn it a certain way are, in my 2 cents worth, what brings on the anxiety. It is OK to not be a math whiz. Its also OK to be one. We are individuals with different gifts!

    November 3, 2012 at 17:10 | Report abuse | Reply


    November 3, 2012 at 21:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Blinkers

      Agreed, any monkey can learn a fixed abstract equation as this requires no thought other than recollection as a premise of comparison. However, where one is unable to calculate using concrete math most certainly cannot use what is actually the abstract as it will always change, yet, remain the same.

      Why term intelligence in math as recalling something that is neither useful nor applicable, or able to change with ones surroundings? This would in reality be mental degeneration and not intelligence!

      November 4, 2012 at 19:20 | Report abuse |
  44. Sara

    I have a very anxious personality, but I find math very interesting and comforting. Soothing, even. Math has unbreakable laws. It solves problems in a clean manner, with no wishy-washiness.

    November 3, 2012 at 21:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Zap B.

    School math was horrible because it was pointless. No math teacher ever said WHY we were learning something. 'Here's a formula, memorize it.. okay, but why?.. what does it mean? Don't ask. just memorize.' I hate math. And I brag about it because reading is a skill that's actually useful in the real world.. unlike math.

    November 4, 2012 at 02:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. NorCalMojo

    Wimpy kids hate sports and dumb kids hate math.

    November 4, 2012 at 10:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Orestes

    I have not heard the term Dyscalculia in years. Actually, I thought the concept had been done away with a long time ago (late 80’s). Truth is; there is no such condition as Dyscalculia. It was a term that many students used to get out of having to do placement testing for college. The only situations in which a person can’t comprehend and learn math is if they are profoundly mentally retarded or if they are dead. That is not to say that some have to work harder at it than others, but there is absolutely no excuse for not being able to learn math. If you can read, speak, and write then you have the ability to learn math. Just don’t use to the term “dyscalculia” to justify why you did not learn the proper skills when you were younger.

    November 4, 2012 at 12:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. SixDegrees

    A lot of people have the same sort of reaction to poetry. Or modern art. Or various styles of music.

    Not everyone is good at everything.

    November 5, 2012 at 03:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. happy

    could it be math can and should be taught different? I don't think we should be blaming the kids , maybe the adult educator's can do something different .

    November 5, 2012 at 08:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Oscar Pitchfork

    Teaching today is like so many other things that have been screwed up because of a complete lack of comprehension of the basics. I remember basic algebra in 1966. The teacher was a fat, droning old tub that recited the same words that she probably did 30 years earlier. I never got the concept of algebra, I was only able to pass with a D because of monkey-see/monkey-do stare and compare logic. When I retook it in 1984 at a trade college, the first thing the instructor said was"Algebra is a way of dealing with numbers when you don't know what they are." I was flabbergasted! He went on to explain that there are different types of algebraic expression that use different rules of operation, etc. They need to make teachers understand that math is a conceptual thing; you have to do that thing everyone hates to do-you have to think about it, repeatedly, sometimes, until the light goes on.Then you have to stay with it until it no longer terrifies you when you have to figure out a tip.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:27 | Report abuse | Reply
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