AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Math Sucks!

Many people, including myself, hate, or have a strong disliking for math. Math, as I see it, is the study of just a bunch of random numbers and symbols, thrown together, that mean virtually nothing. It is intangible. How much worse can it get? Often times, when I “do” math, I ask myself: how is this going to benefit me in the future? The answer is: it won’t! According to a recent study, all math has in store for me, and other math haters out there, is pain. So all of those long, seemingly endless hours of doing math, have just caused suffering. This is just wonderful.

At The University of Chicago, a team of researchers, including Ian Lyons, discovered that worrying about math can activate regions of the brain, associated with physical pain. People who experience high levels of anxiety, or anxiety at all, when expecting something math related task, sustain increased activity in regions of the brain connected with physical pain. The higher the individuals’ anxiety is, the greater the brain activity is.

The research was done on 14 individuals, who experience math anxiety, according to a survey that was completed. The questions, on the survey, asked about their feelings when encountering anything math related, and measured their anxiety based on their answers. Additional testing concluded that the individual chosen, were not generally anxious people. Their elevated levels of anxiety were a product of math.

After completing the survey, the test subjects were tested in an fMRI machine, while faced with math related tasks. Some of the tasks included: solving equations, in addition to completing word problems.The fMRI scans showed that the anxiety of anticipating math, activated a reaction, in the brain, similar to physical pain. The worse the anxiety is, the more active the brain becomes. The region of the brain that is responsible for this is the posterior insula.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


Wanna socialize………with an Elephant?


Do blind mole rats hold the cure for cancer?


  1. explodingllama342

    This makes sense. I recently read a book called the Mindbody Prescription by Dr. John E. Sarno. Basically, it said that many painful condition are rooted in oppressed emotions, and this is why there seems to be an epidemic of back pain, joints surgeries, and a high rate of painkiller usage.

    Pain threshold is an interesting concept. This TIME article talks about how athletes can usually handle more pain than non-athletes because of their mentality.

    This is especially true of people in contact sports or contact activities. I do martial arts, and part of the training is mental; we have to block out the pain of any blows we get, and I remember one time, my shins got bruised so badly I had to go to the hospital because my lymph nodes swelled up (the doctor actually thought I had been in a car wreck!). At the time, the bruises barely hurt at all because I had blocked out all the pain. Of course, I ended up causing more damage, and to this day, I have nerve damage in both my shins. I suppose this kind of permanent damage is a serious risk in sports like football and wrestling.

    Anyways, very interesting post. This only proves that math truly is pure evil.

  2. arthenice

    Nice, the posterior insula is also triggered by social rejections according to this article:
    Things we get anxious for it seems like math for some people, or social situations are from part of the brain that is releases the feeling of being in pain.

  3. sciencegirl025

    I actually find math really relaxing–quite the opposite of pain causing. But I find the fact that math can cause pain interesting, because I have never actually felt “pain” from math, except in times of frustration or difficulty of understanding. However I think the researchers are trying to make the point that math causes signals similar to pain signals when people are exposed to math at anytime-not only when frustrated. I read this interesting article about how math is now being used in some people to stimulate a slightly “inactive” part of the brain called the parietal lobe. In people where understanding the magnitude of numbers is difficult, the parietal lobes are abnormal. You should read about the new experiments being done to increase number competence (using math) in these lobes. Although math may be painful for some, it is actually helping others overcome certain abnormalities! Great article, I learned a lot of new info.

  4. henroids

    I don’t hate math, english on the other hand…. This made me wonder if this connection had something to do with math anxiety or just plain emotional discomfort. According to it’s not only math that causes pain. According to other studies the end to a relationship can cause pain, in the same way math can. Ian Lyons, co-author of a study on math causing pain, thinks that this can also relate to people’s fear of heights or even spiders. This made me wonder if it is anxiety, why don’t you feel pain when your anxious for something positive (like a birthday or moving into college)?

  5. troybolton

    This is interesting to see how an emotional response can end up triggering physical pain. There was a study at Northwestern University that showed something similar when it came to Chronic back pain. The initial back pain is due to the injury, but the ongoing pain is due to the emotional state of the brain. This also has to due with the Insula. The change in the brain from the injury causes the ongoing pain to the person when the injury may be completely healed. It is interesting to see how the brain can have this much of an affect on our physical state rather than just a mental state. Nice post!

  6. hannahbanana

    Wow! This is crazy!! I happen to be one of the few math lovers but, I wonder if this exists with other subjects. I wonder if when I hate a class and feel anxious for it if it activates the same part of the brain that causes pain because math does not cause anxiety for me.

  7. leahna

    I read an article about this before and I completely agree! I find math one of the most frustrating things.

    Unfortunately, according to this article (, people only learn best under difficult circumstances. Looks like math class isn’t going anywhere for awhile

  8. evolucious

    Yes, it does seem that most students dislike math – and now with biological reactions as an excuse. When activity in the fear brain region increases, activity in the problem-solving region decreases. Stanford also did some research on math anxiety which you can check out here:

  9. dwil

    I hate math too. Maybe if I show this post to my doctor they will let me skip class. It’s interesting to see that there is actual scientific evidence that math causes not only mental pain but also physical pain. The fact that the brain actually responds to the subject and the anxiety levels are able to be seen through an fMRI is amazing. Math should be removed from schools in order to prevent further damage to the brain. Students deserve to be pain free during the school day. Thanks for the post.

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

Skip to toolbar