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We Knew It! Doing Math Can Literally Hurt Your Brain

Warning: do not look at the image above if you have math anxiety. A new study by researchers at the University of Chicago has found that for people who get anxious at the idea of doing mathematics, just preparing to do a math problem can trigger activity in a part of your brain that registers physical pain.

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Researchers studied 14 subjects who suffered from anxiety about doing math — but not generalized anxiety — in an fMRI machine that imaged their brain activity. When the subjects were asked to prepare to do a math problem, they showed significant activity in the posterior insula, an area deep in the brain that is associated with responding to threats and experiencing pain.

Oddly enough, it’s not the actual doing of a math problem that seems to cause the pseudo-pain response in math-anxious subjects. It’s the preparation — sharpening the pencil, trying to remember the theorems, and psyching yourself up that failing this calculus test probably isn’t going to be the end of the world. According to study author Sian Beilock:

“For someone who has math anxiety, the anticipation of doing math prompts a similar brain reaction as when they experience pain—say, burning one’s hand on a hot stove.”

Yeah, that sounds about right. As a matter of fact, Placing Hand On Hot Stove is right up there on the list of Thing We Would Rather Do Than Math, nestled between Talk To Mom About Why You Haven’t Settled Down With A Nice Girl Yet and Chainsawing Your Own Face. God, even thinking about this is giving us a math headache right now. If anyone needs us, we’ll be under the covers nursing a cup of hot cocoa and thinking about our failures.

(via Medical Xpress)

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