The Neurodevelopmental Basis of Math Anxiety
Christina B. Young, Sarah S. Wu and Vinod Menon
via Psychological Science

As seen on The Huffington Post at


Math anxiety is a negative emotional reaction to situations involving mathematical problem solving. Math anxiety has a detrimental impact on an individual’s long-term professional success, but its neurodevelopmental origins are unknown. In a functional MRI study on 7- to 9-year-old children, we showed that math anxiety was associated with hyperactivity in right amygdala regions that are important for processing negative emotions. In addition, we found that math anxiety was associated with reduced activity in posterior parietal and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex regions involved in mathematical reasoning. Multivariate classification analysis revealed distinct multivoxel activity patterns, which were independent of overall activation levels in the right amygdala. Furthermore, effective connectivity between the amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex regions that regulate negative emotions was elevated in children with math anxiety. These effects were specific to math anxiety and unrelated to general anxiety, intelligence, working memory, or reading ability. Our study identified the neural correlates of math anxiety for the first time, and our findings have significant implications for its early identification and treatment.

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