Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?
Education Math Science

Math Anxiety Affects Skills As Basic As Counting 210

thirty-seven writes "According to four Canadian psychologists, a study they have conducted shows that math anxiety, 'the feeling of fear and dread of performing mathematical calculations,' can negatively affect mathematical tasks much simpler and more basic than previously thought. In the study, participants were asked to count black squares on a white screen. The number of squares shown ranged from one to nine and participants were given as much time as they wanted before answering. When the number of squares was in the subitizing range (one to four), both math-anxious and non-math-anxious participants performed equally well, but when the number of squares was in the counting range (five to nine), the math-anxious group took longer and were less accurate. The University of Waterloo's news release about the study includes this interesting note: 'Previous studies have shown that a weakness in basic math abilities has a greater negative effect on employment opportunities than reading difficulties [do].'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Math Anxiety Affects Skills As Basic As Counting

Comments Filter:
  • by ndogg ( 158021 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [nrohr.eht]> on Saturday February 20, 2010 @06:41PM (#31213816) Homepage Journal

    Sure, and a part of science is all about confirming those things that seem "obvious."

  • by wizardforce ( 1005805 ) on Saturday February 20, 2010 @06:42PM (#31213830) Journal

    It was also "obvious" that the Sun orbited the Earth until a significant amount of data supporting the heliocentric theory was found. Science requires data not just peoples' "intuition" which is very often wrong.

  • Re:Oh God.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wizardforce ( 1005805 ) on Saturday February 20, 2010 @06:49PM (#31213864) Journal

    Just an anecdote but oddly enough most of the people I know that have gone on to high level math (>>Calc 3) tend not to be terribly good at doing basic math in their heads. It could be just my imagination or it could be that they rely much more on calculators/computers to do most of the actual calculations for them but it would be interesting to see a study on it. Perhaps study how anxiety affects basic math skills among those who are very advanced in mathematics.

  • How math is taught (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Midnight Thunder ( 17205 ) on Saturday February 20, 2010 @06:59PM (#31213920) Homepage Journal

    My impression, through my own experience and people I have spoken to, is that maths is hard to learn because it is generally abstract. For example I get the general feeling that more people pass calculus when they are given an application that help provide a visual context to the skill, such as physics. This is probably the same reason why computers sometimes detract people from using them. The only difference is that we spend a huge amount of time and effort trying to make computers easy, though I am not sure the same can be said about mathematics.

    Having sat through a number of maths classes, and lectures, I find that the people teaching the subject, often fail to appreciate that what they find easy is not necessarily the case for others. This means they don't show the necessary steps or fail to find techniques to facilitate the understanding. Sometimes its almost as if they want to make maths hard to learn. Of course people end up get anxious since they end up feeling stupid.

    Although we talk about car analogies here, in order to make things easy to understand to the, I find the same can benefit maths. By trying to understand what the skill set of your audience is and adapting the teaching helps. For example the 'sum' sign looks hard until (if amongst computer people) you explain its just a 'for each' with addition and the 'pi' sign is a 'for each' with multiplication. In certain cases it is equivalent to the linguistic differences between English and Chinese, in that they both can talk about the same thing, but the way in which they do so is not the same.

  • by Terrasque ( 796014 ) on Saturday February 20, 2010 @07:01PM (#31213942) Homepage Journal

    If you can't count to 9, you shouldn't be in university.

    Implement that rule and you'll have to close liberal arts departments everywhere.

    You say that as if it was a bad thing..

  • Re:Well... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Saturday February 20, 2010 @07:19PM (#31214028)

    Certainly. If you actually have a phobia of something, the smallest notion can affect you. Actually, what surprises me is that counting to four does not affect them.

  • Re:fear of math (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Saturday February 20, 2010 @07:21PM (#31214056)

    I doubt it's that simple. It's like saying that lacking piloting skills affects your fear of flying.

  • by cosm ( 1072588 ) <thecosm3.gmail@com> on Saturday February 20, 2010 @07:39PM (#31214170)
    To add to that, if it were not for science's ability to question seemingly simple things, for all we know every time one steps on the gas pedal an invisible ectoplasm materializes and pushes our chest towards the seat of the car.

    We do in fact feel a force, but because of experimentation and further exploration, we understand the fictitious force due to the nonuniform motion of two reference frames (or the acceleration of the non-inertial frame), in this case rectilinear acceleration. Intuition told us we were being pushed into the seat, but in reality, nothing is pressed against our chest.
  • by shentino ( 1139071 ) <shentino@gmail.com> on Saturday February 20, 2010 @08:17PM (#31214490)

    Math anxiety also inhibits the training one must secure to improve and thus conquer their anxiety.

    Classical conditioning means numbers equal something to be scared of.

    Operant conditioning means that avoidance of numbers rewards by removing fear.

  • Re:Causation (Score:3, Insightful)

    by N3Roaster ( 888781 ) <nealw@NOSpAm.acm.org> on Saturday February 20, 2010 @09:48PM (#31215102) Homepage Journal

    Anecdotally, I've seen people who did not start out with math anxiety but developed that later and observed a decline in counting skills. For example, my sister jokes that she forgot how to count after taking calculus. I'd say there's a pretty good chance that this really is causal, but of course further studies would be required to confirm that.

  • Re:Meh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GammaKitsune ( 826576 ) on Saturday February 20, 2010 @10:57PM (#31215522)

    Nothing helps you get over an anxiety problem like people telling you you're just lazy, let me tell you. You're just not working hard enough, stupid! Only an hour or two (or three) on your math homework? And you still haven't made any progress? You'll sit there all night until you miraculously figure it all out, dummy!

    And every time you look down at that sheet you break into a cold sweat. You get a head full of fog, and every stab at every problem is like groping around blindly. You desperately flip through your notes or pour over the text book, both of which are like trying to read Cyrillic. And all the while, everyone else in the class blazes through the material, leaving you far behind. It's because you're not trying hard enough. Work harder, moron.

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun