... Emerging cognitive and neuroscience research finds that math anxiety is not just a response to poor math performance—in fact, 4 out of 5 students with math anxiety are average-to-high math performers. Rather, math anxiety is linked to higher activity in areas of the brain that relate to fear of failure before a math task, not during it. This fear takes up mental bandwidth during a math task—creating, for example, my feeling suddenly blank and unable to think. In turn, that discomfort tends to make those with math anxiety more reluctant to practice math, which then erodes confidence and skill. In part for that reason, anxiety has been linked to worse long-term performance in math than in other academic subjects like reading.

But unlike reading, seen as a joy and necessity for all children, math too often has been “feared and revered” as a frustrating, boring, mostly irrelevant subject for all but a few elite students with inborn talent.

Children aren’t born fearing math. Their anxiety tends to rise as they age, as they confront more challenging content and “exposure to other people’s negative attitudes to mathematics; to social stereotypes, for example about the general difficulty of mathematics or about supposed gender differences in mathematics,” according to one recent analysis.

... Regardless of whether a student starts out performing well or poorly in math, a fixed mindset leads students to fear that making a mistake or failing a test could “prove” they have no innate math ability.

... 1 in 4 U.S. teachers often feel anxious doing math.

... There aren’t “math people” and “non-math people,” only those who work through the challenging lesson and those who surrender too soon. Helping children understand that math doesn’t define them, but can help them redefine their world, could be key to turning math anxiety into joy.

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