You stare at the math test, pencil frozen. You know the answer to this problem. You know you know the answer to this problem. Yet, somehow, the answer doesn’t come. The issue may not be what you know, but rather how you feel. Anxiety can hinder people even when they’re solving the most basic math problems, according to a 2017 study on adults with high math anxiety. When given basic arithmetic problems like 5+3, math-anxious people could still solve them accurately, but scientists saw different patterns of activity in the areas of the brain associated with focus and effortful thinking. People who weren’t anxious about math performed better when they activated these areas less. That strategy didn’t seem to help math-anxious people.
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