Lousy in Math? Here are the Possible Reasons Why
by www.SixWise.com
Do your palms start sweating when it comes time to figure
out what to leave for a tip after you eat out? Or do you carry
a calculator with you to do even a quick addition problem,
shrugging and saying to anyone who's around, "I'm just
not good at math"?
You're not alone. Math may be the mostloathed subject when
it comes to American adults and students alike.
Still feel like you're being called to the blackboard
whenever you have to figure out a math problem? Check
out the selfteaching
guidebook at the end of the article to refresh your
math skills and apply them easily to everyday situations.

"There's a general math phobia in the public,'' said
Chris Cox, math coordinator for Kalamazoo Public Schools.
"No parent would ever say, `I just can't read.' But there's
a common acceptance of not doing well in math, and that that's
OK. Yet math is a critical subject."
Your Brain may be to Blame
It turns out there's an area of the brain called the intraparietal
sulcus (IPS) that is necessary for you to process numerical
information and conceive of numbers. Researchers at the California
Institute of Technology and the University College London
recently found that the IPS helps us determine how many of
something there is, as opposed to how much.
The difference may seem minimal, but it actually greatly
affects your ability to do math. Fulvia Castelli, a postdoctoral
researcher at the California Institute of Technology and lead
author of the paper, explains using an example of a supermarket
checkout line.
"Imagine how you really pick the shortest checkout line,"
says Castelli. "You could count the number of shoppers
in each line, in which case you'd be thinking discretely in
terms of numerosity. But if you're a hurried shopper, you
probably take a quick glance at each line and pick the one
that seems the shortest. In this case you're thinking in terms
of continuous quantity."
How Many and How Much
To find the difference between looking at things in terms
of 'how many' or 'how much' the researchers had study participants
make estimates of quantity while under an MRI scan.
They were shown a series of blue and green flashes or a chessboard
with blue and green rectangles, then asked to estimated whether
there was more green or blue.
When the participants were shown separate colors, researchers
found, the brain automatically counts the objects present.
However, when a continuous light or a blurred chessboard was
shown, the brain estimates how much blue or green is there
(as opposed to counting).
When this activity is abnormal, researchers say that dyscalculia,
a condition in which a person is unable to deal with numbers,
may result. Essentially, the person is unable to assess how
many things there are. Castelli explains:
"We think this identifies the brain activity specific
to estimating the number of things. This is probably also
a brain network that underlies arithmetic, and when it's
abnormal, may be responsible for dyscalculia. Of course,
dyscalculics can learn to count. But where most people can
immediately tell that nine is bigger than seven, anyone
with dcyscalculia may have to count the objects to be sure.
Similarly, dyscalculics are much slower than people in
general when they have to say how many objects there are
in a set. This affects everyday life, from the time when
a child is struggling to keep up with arithmetic lessons
in school to the time when an adult is trying to deal with
money."
Go ahead, count them! When it comes to doing math,
experts say there's nothing wrong with using your fingers.

Math Anxiety
Some people also suffer from math anxiety, which is defined
as having feelings of tension and anxiety that interfere with
the manipulation of numbers and the solving of mathematical
problems in ordinary life and academic situations.
This can arise from a fear of public embarrassment at getting
the wrong answer to a math problem or having to figure math
problems more quickly than you're comfortable with because
of a deadline or timed exam. Either way, it can cause a person
to lose selfconfidence.
While everyone experiences some math anxiety now and again,
experts say severe math anxiety is actually a learned emotional
response, stemming from feeling anxious in a classroom setting.
Many people (and even math teachers) may also instill the
belief in young children that math just "isn't for everybody"
and can be a struggle (for instance, when children see their
parents struggling with numbers for paying bills, taxes, etc.,
but not using them for pleasant things, like cooking).
Tips for Everyday Math
If you or someone you know has a math phobia, feels they
just "can't do math," or just loathes the thought
of crunching numbers, check out "All
the Math You'll Ever Need: A SelfTeaching Guide."
Written by Steve Slavin, Ph.D, a professor of economics at
Union Country College in Cranford, New Jersey, this book will
refresh your practical math skills with examples based on
everyday situations and give you simple ways to:
Finally, don't be ashamed to use tools that can help you
with adding, subtracting and more. A calculator would apply
here (get one small enough to keep in your purse or pocket),
as would computer programs that do math automatically for
you and, if all else fails, your fingers!
Recommended Reading
10
Key Tax Law Changes You Need to Know For Preparing Your 2005
Taxes
The
10 Dumbest Everyday Mistakes People Make With Their Money
Sources
Kalamazoo
Gazette March 27, 2006
Science
Daily March 22, 2006
The
Causes and Prevention of Math Anxiety