All in Our Heads?

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Science  11 May 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6082, pp. 651
DOI: 10.1126/science.336.6082.651-a

Math anxiety is a familiar ailment to many adults; however, little is known regarding its neurodevelopmental basis. To investigate this, Young et al. used a scale for evaluating math anxiety in adults to assess math anxiety in 7- to 9-year-old children. In a separate session, functional MRI data were obtained from these children while they determined whether addition and subtraction problems were done correctly. Math anxiety was found to associate with hyperactivity in the amygdala, a region of the brain involved in processing negative emotions, and with reduced activity in prefrontal cortex regions implicated in mathematical reasoning. Furthermore, connectivity between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex regions involved in emotional regulation was elevated in children experiencing math anxiety. These findings confirm math anxiety as a legitimate type of stimulus- and situation-specific anxiety. Future studies should investigate whether it is possible to design treatment strategies based on successful therapies for other phobias that result from aberrant activity in the amygdale. Future work should also focus on whether studies like these can provide information on how problem-solving and reasoning are influenced by math anxiety.

Psychol. Sci. 23, 10.1177/0956797611429134 (2012).

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