According to a new study, kids‘ anxiety related to math could be solved by tutoring. The study was published in The Journal of Neuroscience.
The study says that by altering the fear impulses coming from the children’s brain via tutoring, their nerves could be significantly reduced.
The math abilities and performance of children weren’t affected before or after the tutoring, but rather the high or low math anxiety levels were related to a specific area of the brain.
A professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine, Vinod Menon, estimated that 17 to 30 percent of elementary and middle-school students display anxiety when it comes to math.
Menon said that kids who would be eager to deal with math problems, could overcome their fears and stress-related issues in time. This is similar to exposure therapy, according to the research team. By extrapolation, exposure therapy works when an arachnophobe is introduced to spiders and they start fearing them less and less in time.
To emphasize the idea, researchers asked third-graders to solve a questionnaire. The kids were divided into two groups: those who displayed high levels of math anxiety, and those who exhibited low ones.
The children were subjected to brain scans while they were solving math problems, and the results were concise. Children with high math anxiety displayed the amygdala to be more active. The amygdala is the cerebral region which deals with emotional and fear-related stimuli. Moreover, anxiety patients and those who suffer from phobias usually exhibit higher activation patterns in the amygdala area.
Menon explained that, despite the kids being very young,
“math stimuli can provoke, hyperactive and engage the emotion centers of the brain in ways that were not the case in children with low math anxiety.”
In an attempt to solve the kids’ with high math anxiety issues, they were offered tutoring three times a week. The tutors helped them whilst encountering difficulties in solving a multitude of math problems. The kids were also encouraged by their tutors. At the end of the period, scientists conducted another set of brain scans. Those scans revealed that the amygdala’s activity was affected in a positive way, meaning the brains of kids with math anxiety were similar to those of children who didn’t suffer from it. It’s worth mentioning that kids’ performance also improved over eight weeks.
It seems that a little help from a tutor, a human one, at least, can help kids go a long way, whereas the authors finally pointed out that repeated sessions could make children feel empowered in regards to their math abilities, thus reducing their math anxiety considerably.
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