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Math Stimulates Pain Centers

For many, math can be a difficult subject in school and even after graduation. But did you know that math can make your brain hurt? A new study shows that math anxiety activates the same areas in the brain that react when we are in pain or are being threatened. While it isn’t the act of doing math problems itself that makes the brain hurt, anxiety over handling calculations causes the odd brain response. Fear of math is a real syndrome, characterized by displeasing psychological and emotional responses from the anticipation of performing mathematics. The study followed 14 math-anxiety ridden subjects, challenging them to algebra problems while their brains were scanned in an MRI. These subjects were compared to 14 math-friendly participants who also underwent an MRI while completing algebra problems. The results showed that those with math-anxiety had brain activity in the dorso-posterior region of the brain, the area that manifests physical pain when activated. Those without math-anxiety experienced no pain manifestation. While math-anxiety can cause physical pain, the act of solving a math problem causes no reaction. The anticipation is what activates the pain-causing region of the brain. So, even those who have math-anxiety can solve problems without activating additional pain. Researchers know that other environmental stimuli can activate the dorso-posterior region of the brain. One example is the physical manifestation of pain when enduring a difficult break-up with a boyfriend or girlfriend. The stress and fear causes that center to become active and many people endure physical symptoms over the grief of their relationship. The correlation between math-anxiety and physical pain is interesting, but don’t expect it to get you out of math class.   Sources: Los Angeles Times - Science -,0,2077392.story NBC News - The Body Odd Blog - -
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