Technique for overcoming math anxiety

22 Jul

A majority of students report suffering from math anxiety. Now, a study published in the journal Learning and Individual Differences has found that a simple focused breathing technique may reduce math anxiety.

Thirty-six Tufts University students were tested on a time math test under a variety of interventions. One of the interventions was a form of mindful breathing suggested by the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn. The authors describe the technique this way:

“In this exercise, participants are guided through instructions and practice opportunities centered around an attentional focus on the sensations of the breath (inhalation and exhalation). For instance, participants are told to “tune into the feeling of the breath moving in and out of your body, focusing on the sensation of the breath moving past the nostrils; or alternatively, on the feeling of your belly expanding gently on each in-breath, and receding gently with each out-breath.” Participants are repeatedly encouraged to refocus to the breath if the mind wanders away from its sensations.”

They found this technique significantly decreased math anxiety and improved performance for those with high math anxiety. For these anxious students accuracy increased by 9%. In a school setting, this could mean almost the difference of an entire grade.

This is finding is in line with other research that suggests that mindfulness may improve memory.

The study also tested the effect of the amino acid  L-theanine, a substance found in tea. Some research has claimed that L-theanine might improve cognitive performance. In this study, however, L-theanine did not have a significant effect on math performance.

One Response to “Technique for overcoming math anxiety”


  1. Meditation: Day 203 | peakmemory - July 23, 2013

    […] is evidence that mediation has cognitive benefits including improved memory. In the past, I have always had difficulty maintaining a daily mediation […]

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