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Math-Anxious Parents Pass Their Stress onto Their Kids

The barrier to understanding math may be more psychological than we thought.

Americans’ math anxieties are well-known. A series of math problems that went viral this year solidified this notion, as the proposed math problems actually had little to do with math — some of them were logic problems.

A lot of our issues with math are purely psychological, and a group of researchers led by psychological scientists Sian Beilock and Susan Levine, from the University of Chicago, have found that parents are passing this math anxiety along to their kids.

Beilock explained in a press release:

“We often don’t think about how important parents’ own attitudes are in determining their children’s academic achievement. But our work suggests that if a parent is walking around saying ‘Oh, I don’t like math’ or ‘This stuff makes me nervous,’ kids pick up on this messaging and it affects their success.”

In order to come to these conclusions, the researchers gathered 438 first- and second-grade students and their primary caregivers to participate in their study. The children were given a math assessment test and a questionnaire to gauge their anxiety toward the subject at the beginning and end of the school year. Parents were also given a questionnaire asking how comfortable they were with math and how often they assisted their kids with their homework.

The researchers found that “parents’ math anxiety negatively affected children only when they frequently helped them with math homework.” These results point “to the need for interventions focused on both decreasing parents’ math anxiety and scaffolding their skills in homework help.”

This stress toward math really is quite strange when you think about it. Mathematician Edward Frenkel explains that “no one would ever say, ‘I hate literature,’ or, ‘I hate art,’ or, ‘I hate music.’” Yet, it’s acceptable to hate math.

Read more at EurekAlert!

Photo Credit: AFP / Stringer/ Getty


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