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Math Anxiety Affects Skills As Basic As Counting

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the resemble-that-remark dept.

Education 210

thirty-seven writes "According to four Canadian psychologists, a study they have conducted shows that math anxiety, 'the feeling of fear and dread of performing mathematical calculations,' can negatively affect mathematical tasks much simpler and more basic than previously thought. In the study, participants were asked to count black squares on a white screen. The number of squares shown ranged from one to nine and participants were given as much time as they wanted before answering. When the number of squares was in the subitizing range (one to four), both math-anxious and non-math-anxious participants performed equally well, but when the number of squares was in the counting range (five to nine), the math-anxious group took longer and were less accurate. The University of Waterloo's news release about the study includes this interesting note: 'Previous studies have shown that a weakness in basic math abilities has a greater negative effect on employment opportunities than reading difficulties [do].'"

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210 comments

Isn't it obvious ? (3, Interesting)

ls671 (1122017) | more than 4 years ago | (#31213730)

Isn't it obvious that the fear of something will have an impact even on the simplest things where something relative to that fear is involved ?

Re:Isn't it obvious ? (4, Informative)

caffeinemessiah (918089) | more than 4 years ago | (#31213766)

Isn't it obvious that the fear of something will have an impact even on the simplest things where something relative to that fear is involved ?

Yes, but I think what this study was trying to test was how basic the task has to be for the fear response to have a measurable effect. Turns out, pretty damn basic.

Well... (1)

Misanthrope (49269) | more than 4 years ago | (#31213770)

Sort of, this is a pretty damn simple task. Would you really have guessed that somebody who was math anxious would have trouble counting to 9?

Re:Well... (2, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214028)

Certainly. If you actually have a phobia of something, the smallest notion can affect you. Actually, what surprises me is that counting to four does not affect them.

Re:Well... (4, Informative)

Mikkeles (698461) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214416)

That's because one doesn't have to count to four; one just sees the items as 'four of them'.

Re:Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31214736)

This was one of the best exchanges on /. in some time. Seriously.

Re:Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31214476)

A couple weeks ago I was taking a class in first aid. One of the things we had to do was count the number of respirations / heartbeats in 15 seconds to get a count of how many per minute, compare to normal, and then infer what the state of health of the "casualty" was. As we were doing this on dummies, we would have to count out loud (one one thousand two one thousand etc) and then look at the instructor and ask what we counted.

This was part of a larger simulation, so it wasn't until a while later that one of the instructors asked me what happened to ten. Me: "I thought I was missing something..." The very act of having to add "one thousand" after each number screwed me up and I managed to omit ten.

In reality, this wouldn't have been a problem because I wouldn't have been trying to yell out numbers above a bunch of noise; I would have been looking at my watch. :)

Re:Isn't it obvious ? (4, Insightful)

ndogg (158021) | more than 4 years ago | (#31213816)

Sure, and a part of science is all about confirming those things that seem "obvious."

Re:Isn't it obvious ? (1)

ls671 (1122017) | more than 4 years ago | (#31213866)

I thought it was for confirming the not so obvious things like the curving of light predicted by Einstein ;-))

Re:Isn't it obvious ? (0, Offtopic)

thms (1339227) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214098)

Off topic: No, Newtonian physics also predicts that starlight will bend around a massive object. [wikipedia.org] , and observing the famous eclipse of 1919 [wikipedia.org] was mostly about how much light would bend. Some recent publications even suggest that Eddingtons observations were not good enough to decide either way, but that science just wanted something more than wonderful formulas to make the old guard give up Newton already.

On topic:The concept that girls suck at math [xkcd.com] (and after more and more school years, the gap indeed widens) is related to just this. A study (can't find it right now) found that girl's math performance was related to how much fear of math, "I was always bad at math" and other negative vibes they got from their female teachers. My take is that it is more socially acceptable for women to openly share their insecurities* than for than for men, and girls (being more... social? Is that actually more than a stereotype?) pick up on that.
* or even boast with them, the whole anti-intellectual pride of being bad at something or not being an elitist. I wonder what the mechanics behind that are...

Re:Isn't it obvious ? (1)

ls671 (1122017) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214348)

According to you own link:

> So Einstein was the first to calculate the correct value for light bending.

And just as I said in my post, science was used to prove that he was correct.

"It was not until the late 1960s that it was definitively shown that the amount of deflection was the full value predicted by general relativity, and not half that number."

Re:Isn't it obvious ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31214224)

And how much more "confirmation" did this "science" provide?

Re:Isn't it obvious ? (2, Informative)

robot256 (1635039) | more than 4 years ago | (#31215152)

Exactly. When science (actually Galileo) tried to confirm the "obvious" notion that heavy objects fall faster, it turned out that what was everybody thought was "obvious" was wrong. Hence the need to confirm things that seem obvious at first glance with scientific observation and analysis.

Re:Isn't it obvious ? (4, Insightful)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#31213830)

It was also "obvious" that the Sun orbited the Earth until a significant amount of data supporting the heliocentric theory was found. Science requires data not just peoples' "intuition" which is very often wrong.

Re:Isn't it obvious ? (4, Insightful)

cosm (1072588) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214170)

To add to that, if it were not for science's ability to question seemingly simple things, for all we know every time one steps on the gas pedal an invisible ectoplasm materializes and pushes our chest towards the seat of the car.

We do in fact feel a force, but because of experimentation and further exploration, we understand the fictitious force due to the nonuniform motion of two reference frames (or the acceleration of the non-inertial frame), in this case rectilinear acceleration. Intuition told us we were being pushed into the seat, but in reality, nothing is pressed against our chest.

Re:Isn't it obvious ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31214600)

Or to prove that Earth is actually warming. :P

But oh well, every winter people say "oh noes, look outside, it's cold".

Re:Isn't it obvious ? (4, Funny)

DeadboltX (751907) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214040)

Maybe the group that has math anxiety has it because they suck at math.

Re:Isn't it obvious ? (5, Interesting)

UncleMidriff (935137) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214414)

I have a bachelor's degree in math, and I graduated with a 4.0 GPA. Though I realize that's not all that impressive among the Slashdot crowd, I have done math that would make most normal men weep, and I excelled at it. However, if you were to come up to me and ask me what 7*13 is, I would turn white as a sheet, stammer a bit, and, after several minutes, give you an answer that is likely incorrect. There's just something about being put on the spot like that that shifts my brain into panic mode.

Re:Isn't it obvious ? (1)

Kral_Blbec (1201285) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214982)

In a similar vein, I participated in a few math-bowl competitions in high school. Even though I was excellent at math, I sucked in the completion. When you start into anything beyond arithmetic then there is really little point in mental math. Sure I could figure out 7*13 but when you do math with more letters than numbers, there isnt much reason to do it by hand anymore.

Re:Isn't it obvious ? (2, Insightful)

shentino (1139071) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214490)

Math anxiety also inhibits the training one must secure to improve and thus conquer their anxiety.

Classical conditioning means numbers equal something to be scared of.

Operant conditioning means that avoidance of numbers rewards by removing fear.

Re:Isn't it obvious ? (1)

dcollins (135727) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214126)

"Isn't it obvious that the fear of something will have an impact even on the simplest things where something relative to that fear is involved?"

I'll say: no, not obvious. Equally legitimate suppositions:
(1) It is the difficulty of the task which "will have an impact" on people's emotional state, not the other way around.
(2) People's fear reactions should make them more focused, attentive, and capable.

fear of math (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#31213764)

I would imagine that someone that was very bad at math would be anxious about having to use their weakened mathematical ability.

Re:fear of math (2, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214056)

I doubt it's that simple. It's like saying that lacking piloting skills affects your fear of flying.

Re:fear of math (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214284)

Bad example. Most people on a plane do not have piloting skills and frankly, they ought to be afraid of jumping into the pilot seat as should everyone else in the plane. Your example would be a more accurate analogy if being bad at math caused you to be more afraid of someone else doing the math for you.

Somewhere back in Germany around 1920... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31213774)

A chicken farmer couldn't count the chickens before they hatched.

The rest is His Story.

HH!

Re:Somewhere back in Germany around 1920... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31213806)

HH is Hail Hit***? or is there some other meaning to this story?

Heinrich Himmler! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31213848)

The chicken farmer...Heinrich Himmler, awayyyyy!

Learn2History.

PS: Son, I am disappoint...

In a second study by Canadian psychologists (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31213788)

It was found study participants reported much more anxiety during sexual performance when Canadian psychologists were also in the room monitoring.

Oh God.... (4, Funny)

zach_the_lizard (1317619) | more than 4 years ago | (#31213792)

Oh my god! That calc test on surface integrals is scaring me! How many days do I have until I have to take it? Let's see, one, two, four? Shit, shit! Let's start over. One, two, three, where was I? Oh god, how did I make it this far? Was this all some sort of ruse to make me feel good about myself? Has my whole life so far been a lie? How can I major in CS if I can't even count! If only I had learned that I was terribly afraid of math all those years ago....I think there is only one way out of here: majoring in education or running for office. Or is that two? Dammit, there we go again!

Re:Oh God.... (2, Insightful)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#31213864)

Just an anecdote but oddly enough most of the people I know that have gone on to high level math (>>Calc 3) tend not to be terribly good at doing basic math in their heads. It could be just my imagination or it could be that they rely much more on calculators/computers to do most of the actual calculations for them but it would be interesting to see a study on it. Perhaps study how anxiety affects basic math skills among those who are very advanced in mathematics.

Re:Oh God.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31213910)

I agree. I have long joked that I can't do mental arithmetic but I'll happily integrate the numbers in front of me (actually, it's no joke).

Anyway, most math types tend to do algebraic a+b=c instead of the more every day numeric 1+2=4.

Re:Oh God.... (2, Interesting)

AuMatar (183847) | more than 4 years ago | (#31213912)

I think it has a lot to do with the frequency of calculations. Most high order math doesn't require dealing with large numbers, but variables. So you don't get a lot of fiddling with actual calculations in your day to day life, other than maybe adding up bills (which you tend to estimate on anyway- you round things up or down for easy adding). I used to be able to take a square root to 4 significant figures in my head in just a few seconds. I still remember how, but trying to do so would take me a minute or so- I just don't practice multiplication and division of large numbers every day anymore. No real need to. But if I practiced again I'd get my speed back. I think the same goes for most people who learn and study higher mathematics- any loss in calculation speed is due to not needing to use it often.

Re:Oh God.... (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 4 years ago | (#31213914)

Just an anecdote but oddly enough most of the people I know that have gone on to high level math (>>Calc 3) tend not to be terribly good at doing basic math in their heads.

      Heh, I'm just the opposite. I'm very good at mental arithmetic, and I can multiply 4 digit numbers in my head usually faster than someone who reaches for a calculator, but I absolutely suck at math - especially trig (Calculus not so much). However I chalk it up to carelessness because I understand the concepts fine but I keep dropping or changing a sign here and there when I'm working out a problem. Which is why I went into a field in the biological sciences. Pretty much all the numbers are positive! Now my most complicated "formula" is "ok the kid weighs 8kg and the dose is 40mg/kg so 320mg per day divided by 3 is (rounding and adjusting up to the next dose easiest to dispense) 120mg 3 times a day... (scribble scribble scribble) here you go, call me in 3 days".

Re:Oh God.... (1)

mdwh2 (535323) | more than 4 years ago | (#31213978)

Mathematicians don't care about trivial things like the actual numerical answer. As long as you've shown there's a solution, that's good enough :)

(I think this applies to other subject areas - most of the subject matter is unrelated to what lay people commonly think it's about. I had a History teacher at school who said she was "bad at dates". Another example would be someone studying English, with bad spelling...)

Re:Oh God.... (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214088)

Maybe these people are generally like my math prof during my university years. He was an absolute math genius. Yet calculation (ya know, the good ol' 2+2=4) was not his forte. Not because it was hard. Quite the opposite. It was boring. Or "trivial" as he loved to say. He hated trivial stuff. You could literally see how teaching entry level math was a veritable chore and outright torture to him. How come these idiots couldn't wrap their feeble brains around a simple concept like double integrals...

These people don't really care about the solution for a calculation, they care about finding one. The old joke about a mathematician sitting in a burning room, spotting a fire extinguisher and going "there's a solution!" before turning around in his bed to sleep is pretty dead on.

Re:Oh God.... (1)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214404)

Maybe these people are generally like my math prof during my university years. He was an absolute math genius.

I doubt it. If you compare with a true math genius such as Gauss [wikipedia.org] , you'll find that Gauss was incredibly interested in calculating things, ie obtaining an actual number at the end that's correct.

Re:Oh God.... (1)

ClosedSource (238333) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214268)

Perhaps that's why people hated playing D&D with me - took to long to calculate things. On the other hand, it could be that they figured out that I was only there because my wife insisted.

Meh (0)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 4 years ago | (#31213844)

Psychologists are great at making excuses for everything. Especially when the probable "solution" is going to be - THERAPY! Wow I didn't see that one coming. No conflict of interest whatsoever.

The bottom line is if you can't count, you can't count. AND practice makes perfect. Oh and guess what - doing something over and over also reduces anxiety. Hey, maybe those people are "anxious" about math because they're the ones that never did their math homework! Maybe doing math homework and doing the "extra credit" problems and oh I will go all out here - doing the EVEN numbered problems even when your teacher only assigned the ODD numbered problems, and WITHOUT looking at the answers in the back of the book, help build confidence and reduce anxiety.

Call me when they pass a law banning math classes because they are a form of emotional "child abuse". No child left behind.

Re:Meh (1)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214076)

Hey, maybe those people are "anxious" about math because they're the ones that never did their math homework!

Maybe they were yelled at and threatened with violence when doing their math homework. Which made them distraught and unable to perform mathematically, which led to bad grades, which led to more yelling.

I know you'll dismiss that, since you're obviously devoid of empathy and compassion, but I thought I'd try to enlighten you anyway.

Re:Meh (1)

cosm (1072588) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214218)

Maybe they were yelled at and threatened with violence when doing their sex ed. homework. Which made them distraught and unable to perform sexually, which led to bad sex, which led to more masterbating.

Too easy.

Re:Meh (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214342)

I know you'll dismiss that, since you're obviously devoid of empathy and compassion, but I thought I'd try to enlighten you anyway.

      No I'm more of a results oriented person who believes that dwelling on the past is not constructive to future progress. The past exists to be learned from, not lived in. My own past is full of very real nightmares and ghosts, things have happened to me that make everyone who finds out gasp in amazement. The key to survival is getting over it, not using it as an excuse for a "handicap". A person who has so called "math anxiety" and is determined enough can get past it. Or they can wallow in it and use it as an excuse to lead mediocre lives following the path of least resistance. Life is full of choices. Perhaps I am educating YOU.

Re:Meh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31214100)

You're assuming they can do the problems in the first place. The reality is if you don't understand the basics, say fundamental theorem of calc, you're going to have a hard time solving the problems, say working with taylor polynomials. Or maybe practice alone will allow you to divine the answer.

Re:Meh (1)

ClosedSource (238333) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214320)

"Psychologists are great at making excuses for everything."

Yes, it's a tough life for a psychopath these days. How can one manipulate people if everybody else is so empathetic?

The REAL story - Canadian Uni Students are Dumb as (-1, Troll)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 4 years ago | (#31213870)

In two experiments, 28 undergraduate students - 14 with low math anxiety and 14 with high math anxiety - were shown a set of black squares on a computer screen. The squares ranged in number from one to nine and participants were simply asked to identify the number of squares.

Although they were timed, participants were not rushed and the display stayed on the screen until a response was made.

When there were one to four squares presented (the subitizing range), both groups of students performed equally well.

But when there were five or more squares presented (the counting range), the math anxious students were significantly slower and less accurate in counting the squares.

If you can't count to 9, you shouldn't be in university. Just as if you can't write a 2-page memo, you shouldn't be in university.

Maybe I can get a grant to study whether it's due to the consumption of Canadian beer, or just colder weather freezing their grey matter.

Re:The REAL story - Canadian Uni Students are Dumb (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31213902)

If you can't count to 9, you shouldn't be in university.

Implement that rule and you'll have to close liberal arts departments everywhere.

Re:The REAL story - Canadian Uni Students are Dumb (2, Insightful)

Terrasque (796014) | more than 4 years ago | (#31213942)

If you can't count to 9, you shouldn't be in university.

Implement that rule and you'll have to close liberal arts departments everywhere.

You say that as if it was a bad thing..

Re:The REAL story - Canadian Uni Students are Dumb (1)

melikamp (631205) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214016)

I wonder how much better they would perform if each correct response was earning them $50. Some people just won't follow even the most basic kind of instructions unless they are strongly and personally motivated.

Re:The REAL story - Canadian Uni Students are Dumb (1)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214128)

Just as if you can't write a 2-page memo, you shouldn't be in university.

Curious. I would think knowing how to write a memo that wasn't two or more pages long would have been the requirement.

Re:The REAL story - Canadian Uni Students are Dumb (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214374)

Study showed that 24% of all accounting graduates could not even READ a 2-page memo. So what happens when you get one who can't read AND can't count to 10?

Trust me on this one, there are some [transboutique.com] things that take more than a page to properly explain.

Re:The REAL story - Canadian Uni Students are Dumb (1)

Kral_Blbec (1201285) | more than 4 years ago | (#31215020)

I'd have to argue that if you can't write a memo in under 2 pages you shouldnt be in a university.

Real math anxiety is... (4, Funny)

creimer (824291) | more than 4 years ago | (#31213904)

Deciding whether the conditional argument of a for loop should be i < size or i < (size - 1) when programming.

Re:Real math anxiety is... (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214112)

Usually the exception gives it away.

Re:Real math anxiety is... (1)

creimer (824291) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214500)

Not always. That depends on whether the variable size represents the size of the array or a subset of the array. You get an exception if the array went out of bounds. If the data output looks screwy for an array subset, it's because the for loop is off by one.

Re:Real math anxiety is... (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214664)

Then it should blow when you're done stepping through the whole array. Or, if you're actually making sure something like this does not happen, you have your own tripwires in place to detect such routines that overstep their bounds.

Re:Real math anxiety is... (3, Informative)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214866)

Wow, how to know Java programmers: they are the ones who can't get their loop terminations correct without something automatic put in place to catch it.

Re:Real math anxiety is... (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 4 years ago | (#31215028)

Me? C++ is my language of choice. I could give it to you in java, but it costs extra. Not so much for expertise, see it as compensation for pain and suffering.

Re:Real math anxiety is... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31214772)

Uh, I think you mean whether the conditional should be i < size or i <= size. size-1 is not all that common.

Re:Real math anxiety is... (1)

creimer (824291) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214992)

Unless you're saving the last space in the array for a '\0' character in ANSI C.

How math is taught (5, Insightful)

Midnight Thunder (17205) | more than 4 years ago | (#31213920)

My impression, through my own experience and people I have spoken to, is that maths is hard to learn because it is generally abstract. For example I get the general feeling that more people pass calculus when they are given an application that help provide a visual context to the skill, such as physics. This is probably the same reason why computers sometimes detract people from using them. The only difference is that we spend a huge amount of time and effort trying to make computers easy, though I am not sure the same can be said about mathematics.

Having sat through a number of maths classes, and lectures, I find that the people teaching the subject, often fail to appreciate that what they find easy is not necessarily the case for others. This means they don't show the necessary steps or fail to find techniques to facilitate the understanding. Sometimes its almost as if they want to make maths hard to learn. Of course people end up get anxious since they end up feeling stupid.

Although we talk about car analogies here, in order to make things easy to understand to the, I find the same can benefit maths. By trying to understand what the skill set of your audience is and adapting the teaching helps. For example the 'sum' sign looks hard until (if amongst computer people) you explain its just a 'for each' with addition and the 'pi' sign is a 'for each' with multiplication. In certain cases it is equivalent to the linguistic differences between English and Chinese, in that they both can talk about the same thing, but the way in which they do so is not the same.

Re:How math is taught (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31214058)

My impression, through my own experience and people I have spoken to, is that maths is hard to learn because it is generally abstract. For example I get the general feeling that more people pass calculus when they are given an application that help provide a visual context to the skill, such as physics. This is probably the same reason why computers sometimes detract people from using them. The only difference is that we spend a huge amount of time and effort trying to make computers easy, though I am not sure the same can be said about mathematics.

This is actually my biggest complaint about the way that mathematics is taught is schools. Kids don't learn mathematics they serve mathematics like a jail sentence because they see no use for it and nobody makes the slightest attempt at trying to motivate them to learn it by showing them what higher practical problems math is useful for solving. Tell them that Math is an essential part of something they are interested in, like computer games for instance, then try to combine the two and alluvasudden their attitude changes. That being said math is a difficult subject to learn and the bewildering, tradition riddled, jungle of math symbology doesn't make it any easier to learn. One actually gets the feeling sometimes that mathematicians go out of their way to make that situation worse.

Re:How math is taught (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31214554)

You think kids would suddenly find Mathematics interesting if you make it more practical? That's nuts. Something isn't interesting because it's useful; it's interesting because it's interesting. History, science, literature...all these subjects are taught for their intrinsic value, not because they are "practical". The problem is that mathematics isn't taught--at all. What is taught is a bunch of memorized rules and so-called "problem-solving", which is useful only for learning those stupid rules. That's not Mathematics. As a mathematically-inclined individual, I liked the subject because I was able to infer actual Mathematics from between the lines. But most students will be scared off. Actual Mathematics is abstract and a lot of fun. For a great explanation of what Mathematics really is, see A Mathematician's Lament [google.com]

Re:How math is taught (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31214116)

I can't quite understand what you're trying to get across, can you make a car analogy please?

Re:How math is taught (1)

dcollins (135727) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214392)

"My impression, through my own experience and people I have spoken to, is that maths is hard to learn because it is generally abstract."

Something I blogged about 2 years ago:

So here I am thinking obsessively deep about what exactly that "biggest idea" should be in each of math and computer sci classes. And oddly I find that all the different math/compsci classes sort of get sucked into the same single, primary big idea in my head. My concern is that it's such a big idea that it can't fit into a single class, or really into the sequence of subjects already mapped out. Or that it will be comprehensible at the level of incoming students...

For today let's say it's this: Abstraction. Getting comfortable with it. Getting proficient with it. Knowing deeply what it implies (Getting rid of details. Panning out just the key big-league concept that you need to apply.) Being able to recognize that any knowledge domain will have a bunch of different abstraction levels, and being able to pick the right one you want to be working at. And being comfortable with forgetting everything else as long as yourk work lasts.

To summarize, I argue this: The whole point of a math class is to be abstract. If it's not abstract, then it's not math. If you didn't need to practice your abstraction skills, then you wouldn't need any math classes.

http://blogs.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendId=65175992&blogId=425845770 [myspace.com]

Re:How math is taught (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31214754)

The whole point of a math class is to be abstract. If it's not abstract, then it's not math.

I don't think that's quite accurate. The idea is not only to be able to abstract things, but also to apply abstractions to the particular; and perhaps more importantly, understanding when there is advantages to be gained by abstraction, and when specializing is more helpful.

And yes, I am a mathematician :)

Re:How math is taught (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214678)

The skill sets of the audience members are likely to vary wildly. The ones that don't know what the first 5 minutes of the class are about get to waste an hour.

Still, most math education is done in a presentational style.

Re:How math is taught (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214848)

One difference I've noticed is people who are good at math tend to look at algebra in terms of pictures, or abstract chunks, whereas people who are not just get confused.

For example, a person good at math will see 3x+7y^2 +5 = 3x +7y^2 + c to be as simple as A+5 = A +c. They can group the complex group into a single piece in their mind. Or they can easily 'flip the chalkboard' around in the mind and realize that 7y = x is the same as x = 7y. If there is one thing that distinguishes a person who is good at math from a person who is not, I would say this is it.

Although in elementary school, the difference between someone who is good and someone who is bad tends to be whether they have someone at home helping them memorize their arithmetic tables.

Training and Confidence (2, Interesting)

y4ku (1681156) | more than 4 years ago | (#31213922)

I think the issue is one of confidence. If you do math on a daily basis, or even have to count things as in this study on a daily basis with the knowledge that you must be right, you'll be more confident in your final answer because you're used to it. Put a guy from a machine shop that has to count 1000 drill bits before he ships them to make sure the shipping order is precise, and he'll top that study.

Re:Training and Confidence (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 4 years ago | (#31213980)

Put a guy from a machine shop that has to count 1000 drill bits before he ships them to make sure the shipping order is precise, and he'll top that study.

Just goes to show how stupid management can be ... I'd give him an accurate scale and tell him to weigh out the right amount.

Re:Training and Confidence (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214130)

...and toss in two more just to make sure the customer won't complain because he got 999 drill bits.

Seriously. That guy counting can't be cheaper than two more drill bits per pack.

Re:Training and Confidence (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214432)

Well, I've seen core bits that are on the high side of $250 each ... but even then, just make a fixture that lets you stack them in a 10x10 configuration (think like a pool ball rack, but square), 10 x, you're done.

Or (again, assuming they're large bites, just lay out 50 side by side, put a couple of heavy blocks on either side, remove the bits, lay out another 50 ... it's not like you have to count the individual bits after the first batch of 50.

Because otherwise, if you're going to count them, you'll get somebody (who, me?) who will come up behind you when you're going "656, 657, 658" and start counting "227, 228, 229, 765, 23, 11-teen, ... hmmm, do you need any help?"

Re:Training and Confidence (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214682)

If a single bit is 250 bucks, you won't have THAT many customers that order a thousand at once. So having a person count thousands once in a blue moon works out. I was talking about mass produced trash.

I can't read, but I can count! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31213970)

Previous studies have shown that a weakness in basic math abilities has a greater negative effect on employment opportunities than reading difficulties [do].

Apparently this is applicable for the position of Slashdot Editor.

Not surpised (1)

oycob (1742138) | more than 4 years ago | (#31213992)

I do voulenteer work for a non-profit organization helping high-school kids with their homework, and with the kids who aren't that confident with math there's always these really simple mistakes - at least when I'm sitting there helping them/watching what they're writing. Suddenly 4+4 isn't 8, and 1/2 isn't 0,5... when I point these things out, it's obvious that they really do know these things. They're just stressed out, and that's what keeping them from performing. For a lot of these kids the same thing happens during tests. They kind of blank out and do weird things that they wouldn't normally do (I'm still talking math here...). I would imagine that standing there with lots of psychologists observing you counting these squares would make people stressed out... I for one would wonder what trick they were trying to pull - how is this a trick question? No wonder it takes someone who's not confident with math a little time to answer. But hey, this is perhaps exactly what they were trying to show with all this. So there ya go.

More than one anxiety? (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214018)

The experiment sounds more like it highlights performance anxiety. Perhaps it's just me, but I don't equate simple "counting" with Math. Once you start doing something with the number you've counted, then it's Math.

Just Leave out the Numbers (1)

Gim Tom (716904) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214074)

I have NEVER been able to do arithmetic well, but did ok at most types of math as long as there were no numbers! Of course I never went much beyond ordinary differential equations.

We're learning more and more about math anxiety (3, Informative)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214096)

Math anxiety is turning out to be a much more complicated phenomena than one might thing. For example, there also was a very interesting study by Sian Beilock at the University of Chichago. Beilock showed that young girls who were exposed to female elementary school teachers were much more likely to develop math anxiety themselves than those not exposed to such teachers. See http://hpl.uchicago.edu/Publications/PNAS_2010.pdf [uchicago.edu] . The exact consequences of Beilock's study are not clear. But combined with the study above, it seems to suggest that we need to do a better job with elementary school teachers. We need to either get rid of the school teachers with math anxiety or get rid of their math anxiety problems. Possibly some combination of both approaches may be in order: Improve the mathematical confidence of elementary school teachers whom we can effect and get rid of those we can't.

Re:We're learning more and more about math anxiety (1)

cosm (1072588) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214252)

"young girls who were exposed to female elementary school teachers"

Counting fugly breast moles sure is most definitely traumatizing.

Re:We're learning more and more about math anxiety (3, Informative)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214324)

Er, missing an import phrase there. Female elementary school teachers with math anxiety is the relevant category of teachers.

Causation (2, Interesting)

dcollins (135727) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214106)

This is the first time on Slashdot that I'll that say there's a legitimate call for "correlation is not causation". The claim in the article is that "anxiety about mathematics can adversely affect tasks as simple as basic counting". But the reported data is simply that "math anxious individuals, relative to their non-math anxious peers, demonstrated a deficit in the counting range (five to nine)..."

I don't see any support for the hypothesis that math anxiety "affects" or "impacts" (per the article) basic math tasks. I think an equally-well supported hypothesis is that people who suck at counting to 5 wind up developing math anxiety.

To test their hypothesis, they need to take equally-skilled people and somehow make an experimental group anxious about the upcoming task (or something). I don't see that happening here. Frankly, I'm highly skeptical of this whole "math anxiety" postulate. I think we've got to accept the fact that for some people, even basic arithmetic is monumentally difficult, and not blame it on their "feelings" towards the task.

Re:Causation (2, Insightful)

N3Roaster (888781) | more than 4 years ago | (#31215102)

Anecdotally, I've seen people who did not start out with math anxiety but developed that later and observed a decline in counting skills. For example, my sister jokes that she forgot how to count after taking calculus. I'd say there's a pretty good chance that this really is causal, but of course further studies would be required to confirm that.

Good research (1)

T Murphy (1054674) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214124)

The idea that some people have a hard time with math is nothing new, but understanding what makes it difficult is important. If math anxiety affects people at such a basic level, addressing their anxiety could create a huge improvement. It would be interesting if we learn enough about how people learn that some day average math skills means a strong grasp of algebra and calculus without needing a calculator.

Math anxiety? This is real? (4, Interesting)

D J Horn (1561451) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214176)

I've always had trouble with math, not so much understanding it but actually doing it. It got worse over the years, not just with harder math, but any math. Eventually I could tell I was actually having anxiety attacks when asked simple math questions. Now days these anxiety attacks are actually bad enough to trigger my flight-or-fight response. It's overwhelming and hard to describe, but if I don't focus entirely on calming down, it feels like I will 'lose control'. At this point the problem makes itself worse - I can be asked something I KNOW how to solve but I end up having to concentrate so hard on self control that I can't even take time to think about the problem I was asked. Not being able to think about the problem means I can't answer it, which makes the anxiety worse, which makes it even more impossible to stop and think about the math itself.

It's been pretty crippling, both socially and in work. I do everything I can to avoid situations that will be problematic. I simply stone wall anyone who tosses math at me, shutting down with simple 'no's and 'I can't's, leading them to assume I'm unintelligent and/or uneducated - an assumption I let them have because it's easier than trying to explain what's really going on.

I've never encountered anyone who even remotely understood, so I thought it was just me having an odd, unfortunate personality quirk. I mean nerds and anxiety go hand in hand right?

Maybe I'm not alone...

Re:Math anxiety? This is real? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31214242)

Or you might just suck...

Re:Math anxiety? This is real? (1)

ClosedSource (238333) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214362)

I sympathize and I am impressed that you confessed this here (of all places). If you get any smart-ass responses just ignore them. You know how it can be around here.

Re:Math anxiety? This is real? (1)

D J Horn (1561451) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214422)

No worries, I've adopted a "it's who I am, I don't care what you think about me" attitude toward it.

Haters gonna hate, and such

Re:Math anxiety? This is real? (1)

ClosedSource (238333) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214508)

None of my business but: Have you ever sought professional help?

I just realized your symptoms are similar to those I felt while pair programming with a guy who was capable of going back and forth between QWERTY and DVORAK keyboards.

Maybe it's a people problem... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31214608)

I don't see why we have to put so much effort into finding new ways to teach idiots how to count.

*I* didn't get 10 "new," "innovative," "fun" methods of learning math as it would suggest are needed here, and I'm perfectly fine. To be honest, I blame adult math problems on calculators. I don't do anything on a calculator unless I absolutely have to. And I haven't done that through college, high school, middle school, or elementary school.

How did I learn math? I learned that I actually have to THINK sometimes, instead of getting everything spoon fed in tiny steps to you. I learned to see numbers in dynamic ways, as physical entities that could transform through operations into answers, or simplified forms. I feel like way too many people around me see numbers as just symbols/random scratching on a piece of paper.

The general level of competence in doing even basic addition in the general population is astoundingly low. I've delivered pizza for a few years now, in a college town (14k undergrads). You would not believe how many "ug I can't do math"s I get when they're adding 2.00 to 18.52 or adding 3.00 to 10.89. God help them if they have to carry over a digit into the 20's, or if they are trying to make it an even dollar (what, when I add .11 to .89 I have to carry 1 into the next column???)

Maybe... (1)

farmanb (1566337) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214650)

Maybe if people stopped constantly telling kids how difficult math is, there wouldn't be so much related anxiety and self inflicted doubt.

As a grad student (in mathematics) at a liberal arts uni, I teach a low level math class every semester and I also sit through two hours a week of 'help sessions,' where undergrads in any of the low level math classes (from 'College Algebra'--essentially algebra 2--up through calc) can come in and ask questions about homework, past quizzes/tests, general topics, etc. as part of my funding. Being that it is a liberal arts uni, the majority of the undergrads I deal with are most definitely NOT science/math/engineering majors. So, half of the time I spend either teaching or in these help sessions basically amounts to me listening to kids tell me how bad they are at math and how much it scares them...after which, I usually get to play therapist and reassure them that it really isn't that bad. Once they get past the general hysteria and start thinking in a halfway logical manner, they usually pick up on what's going on pretty quickly. Most of them, at least after they've stopped trying to convince themselves that math is some evil entity out to eat them, even comment on how easy it really is. If people would just stop spreading baseless hysteria, I'm pretty sure we'd all be a whole hell of a lot better off.

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