Math anxiety is a pretty common condition. Go out to eat with a group of friends and more likely than not at least one person in the group punts and says, “just tell me what I owe. I’m terrible at math.” But why? What about splitting a check or calculating a tip or looking over a budget causes some people to just freeze up in a panic?
What’s the deal with math anxiety? Is it a performance issue or just related to math? Who suffers from it most and what are its consequences?
British researchers set out to answer those questions and their findings are published in the July 9 open access journal “Behavioral and Brain Functions.”
They found that girls exhibit math anxiety behaviors more often than boys, but that it was prevalent in both genders. They also found that math anxiety isn’t necessarily a general anxiety about testing, which is why sometimes your smartest friend has that restaurant check meltdown.
While the researchers didn’t find a cause of math anxiety or a reason for girls to suffer from it at a higher level than boys, they did find that performance wasn’t an issue. Girls and boys performed equally well, overall, in math. It’s just girls had a higher level of anxiety about it.
What it shows, though, is that math anxiety – and not some innate difference in ability – could be driving part of the lower number of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics studies and professions.
Next study? How to teach math without causing anxiety.