New Insights into Math and Reading Hurdles

Researchers at Stanford have shown that math anxiety has a neurological basis.  (Photo credit: FlickrJunkie)

Children frequently hit a wall with one or more of the three Rs. Fortunately, researchers are discovering some of the underlying mechanisms that create math anxiety in young learners as well as possible ways to improve reading skills in middle school students.

For Children with Math Anxiety, Brain Differences Make Doing Math Scary

A brain imaging study conducted by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine has revealed that the brains of children who experience math anxiety actually work differently than the brains of children with no math anxiety.

The research showed that in children with high math-related anxiety, doing math elicits a heightened response in the area of the brain that normally reacts to conditions that cause fear.

It’s remarkable that, although the phenomena was first identified over 50 years back, nobody had bothered to ask how math anxiety manifests itself in terms of neural activity. You cannot just wish it away as something that’s unreal. Our findings validate math anxiety as a genuine type of stimulus- and situation-specific anxiety.”

— Vinod Menon, PhD, Stanford University School of Medicine

The researchers hope that by showing that math anxiety has a basis in neurology, new approaches can be found to deal with it.

Using E-readers Motivates Middle School Boys: Girls Prefer Books

Researchers at Southern Methodist University have studied middle school students who struggle with reading and found that after using e-readers (such as a Kindle) the subjects’ attitudes about the value of reading improved for boys but declined for girls.

The technology appeared to motivate the boys to read, while many girls preferred the actual books. The data showing the girls’ preference were statistically significant and particularly intriguing. This is part of a 3-year study and this data came midway through, so we are continuing our investigation and interviewing girls to understand their reaction to the e-readers. It may be that they prefer curling up with actual books and that they enjoy sharing their reading with their friends.”

— Dara Williams-Rossi, assistant clinical professor, Southern Methodist University

When asked what they liked about the e-readers, the students’ answers included the following:

  • Not having a lot of books to carry
  • Other students could not easily identify their reading level or book choice
  • The book they were reading was always available and hadn’t been removed from the classroom

Rotary International purchased the e-readers for the research.

For More Information:

Read more about kids and e-readers at

Investigate the details of Stanford’s math anxiety study at

© Tony Leininger and IT for Good 2012. See sidebar for full copyright notice.


3 thoughts on “New Insights into Math and Reading Hurdles”

  1. Wow! That math anxiety has a basis in neurology makes total sense to me. My son, who has a neurological disorder, gets so panicky when it comes to math he actually blanked out on a quiz last week. The teacher (who is aware of his condition) let him take the test home where he was able to complete it and pass. Thanks for this!

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