Although negative experiences in math could make most people anxious just looking at numbers, a study in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry found math anxiety may lie in our genes because of risks related to both general anxiety and math skills.
“We found that math anxiety taps into genetic predispositions in two ways: people’s cognitive performance on math and their tendency toward anxiety,” said Zhe Wang, lead author of the study and postdoctoral researcher in psychology at the Ohio State University. Math anxiety has recently gained attention because of its damaging psychological effects and its links to math problem-solving and achievement. A fear of math is not a reflection of a student’s true ability in math but rather an emotional problem that interferes with a person’s ability to learn math, which results in an intellectual problem, according to Texas State University counseling center.
A team of researchers at OSU believe genetics may play a more prominent role in math anxiety, alongside environmental factors. Fear could make it difficult for people to further develop the math skills they already have, as genetic factors may exacerbate this risk. The researchers recruited 216 identical twins and 298 same-sex fraternal twins who participated in the Western Reserve Reading and Math Projects — an ongoing long-term study of twins in Ohio — to investigate the genetic and environmental factors that contribute to differences in anxiety during math tasks. This study included data from the last two home visits of the Western Reserve Reading and Math Projects, when the twins were between 9 and 15 years old.
The participants completed assessments of math anxiety, general anxiety, math problem-solving, and reading comprehension. The researchers then used statistical tools to see how these measures of anxiety and math and reading ability were related between fraternal twins and between identical twins. This served to reach a conclusion how differences in math anxiety could be explained by genetic factors, and how much of these differences were attributed to environmental factors such as home and school.
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