Do you remember shivering at the thought of math class? Do you know what would have helped? A tutor. Stanford researchers have shown that kids who see a tutor have lower levels of anxiety than kids who don’t.
Even if the student initially shows a lot of activity in the fear center of their brain, seeing a tutors a few times each week will cause their fear circuitry to change. It turns out that the actual level of their skill doesn’t have much to do with the state of anxiety, and that the experience is closer to resembling a phobia.
Vinod Menon, professor of behavioral sciences and psychiatry with the Stanford University School of Medicine and the study’s senior author, offered a statement informing that “Now we can say that these differences [in level of math skill] are not really related to performance differences”.
He also added that “They’re really related to anxiety, and that gives us a better sense of the mechanisms by which this is working”. He hopes that the finding will be used to help kids, as professor Menon believes that around 17 percent (17%) to 30 percent (30%) of elementary kids and middle-school kids experience math anxiety.
For these students tutoring is not unlike exposure therapy. The goal of both treatments is to make sure that the subjects face their fears. If they are forced to frequently deal with it, the belief is that they will eventually become accustomed to it and their fear will deintensify.
The brain patterns of individuals who fear spiders or snakes are the same as those of individuals who fear math – they show an increased activity in the amygdale, the brain region where fearful emotions and fearful stimuli are being processed (phobias, anxiety disorders).
To reach these conclusion, professor Menon and his colleagues asked a group of third grade kids to fill out questionnaires that helped the researchers asses each student’s level of math anxiety. This gave them two (2) groups – kids with high math anxiety levels, and kids with low math anxiety levels – and when they scanned their brains they saw the increased levels of activity in the amygdale in the first group.
All of the subjects had to see a tutor for one on one sessions after this assessment. The sessions repeated themselves three (3) times each week, and two (2) months later the researchers scanned their brains for a second time.
What they saw was that the brains of kids with high math anxiety levels no longer showed an acute fear of math.
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