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# Can 'math trauma' hurt people's finances?

Math trauma can follow people beyond grade school to harm their prospects well into adulthood.

- As much as 17 percent of the American population may suffer from math trauma.
- Math trauma prevents people from engaging in financial activities and may harm their career prospects.
- Experts agree that developing growth mindsets in students is critical to prevent further harm.

No subject terrorizes more students than math. A major reason for this is how we teach it. There's the intense memorization of hieroglyphic formulas, the ticking clock of the math test, and the do-or-die nature of a problem's one correct answer. To a child's mind it's as stressful as disarming a bomb — but with the far more dire outcome of a bad test score.

When people finally gain control of their education, many choose to limit their exposure to math and joke that they'll never use any of those theorems anyway. But for those who suffer "math trauma," a condition in which engaging with mathematics causes true fear and distress, these youthful struggles with Pythagoras can have lasting repercussions.

### Math follows

The concept of "number anxiety" was introduced as far back as 1957. Its modern moniker "math trauma" (a.k.a. "math anxiety") has gained public awareness thanks to the efforts of math reformers such as Jennifer Ruef, assistant professor of education studies at the University of Oregon.

"One of the biggest challenges U.S. math educators face is helping the large number of elementary teachers who are dealing with math trauma. Imagine being tasked with teaching children mathematics when it is one of your greatest personal fears," Ruef writes.

Estimates of the condition's prevalence vary, and there remains no clear criterion for how distressed someone must find math before being considered traumatized. Nonetheless, a meta-analysis of the research did show a widespread phenomenon. Of the studies analyzed, one found that 11 percent of university students showed math trauma severe enough for *counseling*. Another suggested that as much as 17 percent of Americans have high math anxiety.

These statistics reinforce Jo Boaler's claim that intense negative emotions surrounding mathematics aren't uncommon.

A math reformer and professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, Boaler writes: "Mathematics, more than any other subject, has the power to crush students' spirits, and many adults do not move on from mathematics experiences in school if they are negative. When students get the idea they cannot do math, they often maintain a negative relationship with mathematics throughout the rest of their lives."

### Finance macabre

Math trauma degrades a person's numerical acumen in two ways. First, it causes avoidance of mathematical undertakings. As a student, this avoidance can extend beyond the classroom and into extracurricular activities, while adults may avoid, or entirely ignore, life pursuits that are math-dependent.

Second, when someone is required to work out a mathematical problem, their associated memories and emotions come into play. If these emotions are disquieting, they can overcharge the person's working memory resources, depleting them of their ability to both learn and perform math.

as math success decreases, finance students' anxiety increases.

This can be especially troubling for adults because — despite what we may tell ourselves — we most certainly use math in everyday life. Granted, few of us have been required to find the volume of an icosahedron, and fewer still can tell you the last time they used the quadratic function. But math is a constant in the realm of personal finance, and this fact can prove deleterious to those who suffer math trauma.

Studies looking at business majors have found that math anxiety is a major source for the onerous reputation of finance courses. For instance, the researchers of one study found that anxiety manifests in quantitatively demanding environments. As a result, despite math's critical role in business success, students delay in taking the required finance and statistic courses. What's more, when they did undertake them, they were found to be less prepared and performed poorer in class.

Another study looked at 1,440 students in business departments across nine Turkish universities. It found that finance department students have a higher level of math anxiety than other business students, and that as math success decreases, student anxiety increases.

This research is limited in sample size and to a specific demographic; however, it reflects the way we see math trauma influencing people's lives beyond their education.

Boaler provides one such anecdote in her 2015 book *Mathematical Mindsets*. Dr. Vivien Perry was an award-winning British scientist who served as a vice chair of council for University College and as a science presenter on the BBC. Yet, she also had a crippling fear of mathematics. Despite her obvious intelligence, she found math so terrifying that she couldn't bring herself to work out the percentages in her taxes.

But math trauma doesn't just interfere with taxes and balanced checkbooks. Boaler cites studies that suggest the more math classes a student takes the higher their future earnings, the more productive their careers, and the more likely they are to receive promotions.

### Changing the formula

How can we improve our relationship with mathematics, both for students and adults? First, we need abolish our belief in the math person, that mythical individual who is innately gifted at mathematics because their brain was built for it. Such a person simply doesn't exist.

As developmental psychology Steven Pinker points out in this book *How the Mind Works*, people don't come pre-equipped with mathematical know-how:

"On evolutionary grounds it would be surprising if children were mentally equipped for school mathematics. These tools were invented recently in history and only in a few cultures, too late and too local to stamp the human genome. The mothers of these inventions were the recording and trading of farming surpluses in the first agricultural civilizations."

To be sure, some people pick up some mathematical concepts quicker than others, and people who enjoy math thanks to positive experiences will likely pursue more. But the reason some people excel at math while others flounder, Pinker notes, is the same reason some people play Carnegie Hall. Practice.

So the question isn't how we can get better at math, but how we can enjoy math enough to practice it without anguish.

Boaler's philosophy is to devise teaching methods that build growth mindsets. We need both students and adults to believe that skills are something that can be fostered through practice and hard work. Math is a skill and, therefore, no different.

Like Boaler, Jennifer Ruef teaches educators strategies to promote growth mindsets surrounding math. Above all, she recommends educators, and parents, make math fun and encourage kids to explain their thinking. She also prescribes re-framing failures as explorations — a hallmark outlook of the growth mindset — and avoid sending the message that some people simply aren't "math people."

As Ruef reminds us: "If you recognize that you are a survivor of math trauma, take heart. You are not alone, and there are ways to heal. It starts with understanding that mathematics is broad and beautiful — most of us are much more mathematical than we think."

## How New York's largest hospital system is predicting COVID-19 spikes

Northwell Health is using insights from website traffic to forecast COVID-19 hospitalizations two weeks in the future.

- The machine-learning algorithm works by analyzing the online behavior of visitors to the Northwell Health website and comparing that data to future COVID-19 hospitalizations.
- The tool, which uses anonymized data, has so far predicted hospitalizations with an accuracy rate of 80 percent.
- Machine-learning tools are helping health-care professionals worldwide better constrain and treat COVID-19.

### The value of forecasting

<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTA0Njk2OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMzM2NDQzOH0.rid9regiDaKczCCKBsu7wrHkNQ64Vz_XcOEZIzAhzgM/img.jpg?width=980" id="2bb93" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="31345afbdf2bd408fd3e9f31520c445a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1546" data-height="1056" />Northwell emergency departments use the dashboard to monitor in real time.

Credit: Northwell Health

<p>One unique benefit of forecasting COVID-19 hospitalizations is that it allows health systems to better prepare, manage and allocate resources. For example, if the tool forecasted a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations in two weeks, Northwell Health could begin:</p><ul><li>Making space for an influx of patients</li><li>Moving personal protective equipment to where it's most needed</li><li>Strategically allocating staff during the predicted surge</li><li>Increasing the number of tests offered to asymptomatic patients</li></ul><p>The health-care field is increasingly using machine learning. It's already helping doctors develop <a href="https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/early/2020/06/09/dc19-1870" target="_blank">personalized care plans for diabetes patients</a>, improving cancer screening techniques, and enabling mental health professionals to better predict which patients are at <a href="https://healthitanalytics.com/news/ehr-data-fuels-accurate-predictive-analytics-for-suicide-risk" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elevated risk of suicide</a>, to name a few applications.</p><p>Health systems around the world have already begun exploring how <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7315944/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">machine learning can help battle the pandemic</a>, including better COVID-19 screening, diagnosis, contact tracing, and drug and vaccine development.</p><p>Cruzen said these kinds of tools represent a shift in how health systems can tackle a wide variety of problems.</p><p>"Health care has always used the past to predict the future, but not in this mathematical way," Cruzen said. "I think [Northwell Health's new predictive tool] really is a great first example of how we should be attacking a lot of things as we go forward."</p>### Making machine-learning tools openly accessible

<p>Northwell Health has made its predictive tool <a href="https://github.com/northwell-health/covid-web-data-predictor" target="_blank">available for free</a> to any health system that wishes to utilize it.</p><p>"COVID is everybody's problem, and I think developing tools that can be used to help others is sort of why people go into health care," Dr. Cruzen said. "It was really consistent with our mission."</p><p>Open collaboration is something the world's governments and health systems should be striving for during the pandemic, said Michael Dowling, Northwell Health's president and CEO.</p><p>"Whenever you develop anything and somebody else gets it, they improve it and they continue to make it better," Dowling said. "As a country, we lack data. I believe very, very strongly that we should have been and should be now working with other countries, including China, including the European Union, including England and others to figure out how to develop a health surveillance system so you can anticipate way in advance when these things are going to occur."</p><p>In all, Northwell Health has treated more than 112,000 COVID patients. During the pandemic, Dowling said he's seen an outpouring of goodwill, collaboration, and sacrifice from the community and the tens of thousands of staff who work across Northwell.</p><p>"COVID has changed our perspective on everything—and not just those of us in health care, because it has disrupted everybody's life," Dowling said. "It has demonstrated the value of community, how we help one another."</p>## 3,000-pound Triceratops skull unearthed in South Dakota

"You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," said lead paleontologist David Schmidt.

- The triceratops skull was first discovered in 2019, but was excavated over the summer of 2020.
- It was discovered in the South Dakota Badlands, an area where the Triceratops roamed some 66 million years ago.
- Studying dinosaurs helps scientists better understand the evolution of all life on Earth.

Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College

<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We had to be really careful," Schmidt told St. Louis Public Radio. "We couldn't disturb anything at all, because at that point, it was under law enforcement investigation. They were telling us, 'Don't even make footprints,' and I was thinking, 'How are we supposed to do that?'"</p><p>Another difficulty was the mammoth size of the skull: about 7 feet long and more than 3,000 pounds. (For context, the largest triceratops skull ever unearthed was about <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02724634.2010.483632" target="_blank">8.2 feet long</a>.) The skull of Schmidt's dinosaur was likely a <em>Triceratops prorsus, </em>one of two species of triceratops that roamed what's now North America about 66 million years ago.</p>Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College

<p>The triceratops was an herbivore, but it was also a favorite meal of the T<em>yrannosaurus rex</em>. That probably explains why the Dakotas contain many scattered triceratops bone fragments, and, less commonly, complete bones and skulls. In summer 2019, for example, a separate team on a dig in North Dakota made <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/26/science/triceratops-skull-65-million-years-old.html" target="_blank">headlines</a> after unearthing a complete triceratops skull that measured five feet in length.</p><p>Michael Kjelland, a biology professor who participated in that excavation, said digging up the dinosaur was like completing a "multi-piece, 3-D jigsaw puzzle" that required "engineering that rivaled SpaceX," he jokingly told the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/26/science/triceratops-skull-65-million-years-old.html" target="_blank">New York Times</a>.</p>Morrison Formation in Colorado

James St. John via Flickr

Triceratops illustration

Credit: Nobu Tamura/Wikimedia Commons |

## World's oldest work of art found in a hidden Indonesian valley

Archaeologists discover a cave painting of a wild pig that is now the world's oldest dated work of representational art.

- Archaeologists find a cave painting of a wild pig that is at least 45,500 years old.
- The painting is the earliest known work of representational art.
- The discovery was made in a remote valley on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

### Oldest Cave Art Found in Sulawesi

<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a9734e306f0914bfdcbe79a1e317a7f0"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/b-wAYtBxn7E?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>## What can Avicenna teach us about the mind-body problem?

The Persian polymath and philosopher of the Islamic Golden Age teaches us about self-awareness.

## The incredible physics behind quantum computing

Can computers do calculations in multiple universes? Scientists are working on it. Step into the world of quantum computing.