A spike in blood pressure. A racing heart rate. Sweaty palms.
For many adults, this is what they feel when faced with difficult math.
But for kids, math anxiety isn’t just a feeling, it can affect their ability to do well in school. This fear tends to creep up on students when performance matters the most, like during exams or while speaking in class.
One reason for a kid’s math anxiety? How their parents feel about the subject.
“A parent might say, ‘oh I’m not a math person, it’s okay if you’re not good at math either,’ ” Sian Beilock, cognitive scientist and President of Barnard College, says. “It can send a signal to kids about whether they can succeed.”
Do you remember the day you decided you were no good at math?
Or maybe you had the less common, opposite experience: a moment of math excitement that hooked you for good?
Thousands of studies have been published that touch on the topic of “math anxiety.” Overwhelming fear of math, regardless of one’s actual aptitude, affects students of all ages, from kindergarten to grad school.
This anxiety extends to the daily lives of grown-ups; we put off planning for retirement, avoid trying to understand health risks and even try to get out of calculating a tip. And even teachers suffer from math anxiety, which has been shown to hurt their students’ scores, especially when the teachers and the students are both female; the theory is that anxiety interacts with negative stereotypes about women’s abilities.