Brain Scans Show Math Can Hurt

University of Chicago researchers call math anxiety a "real phobia"

By Alexandra Ward
|  Tuesday, Nov 13, 2012  |  Updated 2:39 PM EDT
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Brain Scans Show Math Can Hurt

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University of Chicago researchers found that math anxiety stimulates the same brain receptors that register physical pain.

People who hate math now have a good reason: It hurts.

New research shows that math actually equals pain for some, in the brain at least. Comparing the brain scans of people with math anxiety with those of people in physical pain, University of Chicago researchers determined that the activated areas of the brain appeared to overlap, PsychCentral.com reported.

The overlap occurred in an area called the posterior insula, a fold of tissue deep in the brain just above the ear, which is associated with registering direct threats to the body and physical pain, a University of Chicago press release said. In a surprise for researchers, the area responded only when people anticipated having to complete math problems, and not when they were actually doing the math itself.

The researchers categorized math anxiety as a phobia and said people can have a “real, negative psychological reaction.”  

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