Despite being good at maths, many children feel anxious about doing math problems. For some of them, this anxiety persists throughout life, discouraging them from pursuing advanced math and science classes as well as careers that rely on mathematical expertise. A new study has revealed that a one-on-one math tutoring program can relieve anxiety about doing math problems in children.
The study's senior author Vinod Menon, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine in California, US said, "The most exciting aspect of our findings is that cognitive tutoring not only improves performance, but is also anxiety-reducing. It was surprising that we could, in fact, get remediation of math anxiety."
For the study, researchers analyzed 46 children in third grade, who underwent a test that assessed his or her level of math anxiety before they received any kind of tutoring. The observed that the brain scans of the children with high levels of math anxiety showed activation in the brain's fear circuits and so-called 'fear center', or amygdala, before tutoring.
These children were then given an intensive, eight-week tutoring program consisting of 22 lessons involving addition and subtraction problems. Tutors gave these lessons to each child individually. It was noted that all of the children performed better on addition and subtraction problems after tutoring. The researchers also found that children who started the study with high levels of math anxiety had reduced anxiety after tutoring, while those in the low-math-anxiety group had no change in their anxiety levels.
The brain scans also suggested that the fear circuits and amygdala were no longer activated in children who had begun the study with high math anxiety, confirming that tutoring ameliorated the anxiety itself, rather than providing the kids with a coping mechanism that relies on other brain circuits. Study's lead author Kaustubh Supekar from Stanford University said, "It is reassuring that we could actually help these children reduce anxiety by mere exposure to problems."
The study appeared in The Journal of Neuroscience.