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Kids with Math Anxiety Show Different Brain Functions

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Math Phobia

Kids who have math anxiety have altered brain functions, according to a recent study. Brain activity, when faced with equations and formulas from math, decreased with the panic feeling.

A study from the Standford University School of Medicine was published this week in Psychological Science, reported a brain scan was done on fifty children in the second and third grade. Researchers assessed the children for math anxiety with a modified version of a standardized questionnaire for adults, and also received standard intelligence and cognitive tests. They found children with a higher level of math anxiety had a harder time solving math problems and were less accurate compared to those children with lower math anxiety.

Vinod Menon, a co-author and professor of child psychiatry, neurology and neuroscience at Stanford said, “Children who said they had math anxiety had greater responses in the areas of the brain implicated in processing negative emotions like fear, particularly the amygdala. We also saw reduced activity in areas normally associated with mathematical problem solving.”

Children with high math anxiety were accompanied by decreased activity in several brain regions associated with working memory and numerical reasoning. Analysis of brain connections showed that, in children with high math anxiety, the increased activity in the fear center influenced a reduced function in numerical information-processing regions of the brain.

While math anxiety has been known about for a long time, it’s never been studied with the effect it has on students and math skills. Vinod Menon, PhD said, “It’s remarkable that, although the phenomena was first identified over 50 years back, nobody had bothered to ask how math anxiety manifests itself in terms of neural activity. You cannot just wish it away as something that’s unreal. Our findings validate math anxiety as a genuine type of stimulus- and situation-specific anxiety.”

Being able to identify the math anxiety might help develop strategies in the treatment for the problem with anxiety or phobia. Victor Carrion, MD, a pediatric psychiatrist at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital; who was not involved in Menon’s research, but is also an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford said, “The results are a significant step toward our understanding of brain function during math anxiety and will influence development of new academic interventions.”

Menon’s lab is now looking for children ages 7 to 12 in the San Francisco Bay Area for several brain studies, including studies of math anxiety, math cognition and memory formation. The researchers are especially seeking second and third graders who have difficulty with math for a study. A month of free math tutoring will be provided. They are also seeking children with high-functioning autism as well as typically developing children to serve as control subjects for ongoing studies of math, language and social abilities.

Studies involve cognitive assessments and MRI scans. Eligible children will receive pictures of their brain and $50-200 for participation. An MRI scan is a safe, non-invasive procedure that does not use radiation or any injections.

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21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Bomba

    March 23, 2012 at 7:15 pm

    No question I had math anxiety in my youth, and while its much better today (in my 40s), I still have slower processing of math compared to others. The best analogy that I can use is to learning a second language. Some people become so fluent in a second language that they can alternate effortlessly back and forth between languages. While others who spend a comparable amount of time and effort learning a second language will never become this fluent, describing it as always requiring mental effort to ‘switch’ their brain over to the other language, even though they can speak and understand it well. Another analogy I could use is to music, being able to effortlessly transpose the same song (chords and notes) played in different keys. I’ve been playing guitar for years. I know how to transpose or modulate chords for different keys but I have to think about it a lot. If someone were to say “Let’s play this song in alternate C instead of the original F”, I would have to stop and think about how it would change every chord or note in the song. I would need a couple practice runs, maybe more. Whereas a friend of mine could just do this almost on-the-fly without having to think too much about it (we’ve been playing about the same number of years). The ‘anxiety’ comes when you are struggling to play the song in a different key. I would end-up being like “Ummm…can I practice it this way for an hour or so first?” And it never seems to get any easier.

  2. sayhi2yourmom4me

    March 23, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    I strongly doubt that there is a natural evolved anxiety towards math specifically. I would think that it would be based on other things, such as familiarity with abstaract rules combined with social pressures from teachers or parents. I wonder if people with so called ‘Math anxiety’ would show similar symptoms if faced with other tasks concerning unfamiliar abstract rules with similar amounts of pressures. Math can take a while to get comfortable with sometimes.

  3. Will

    March 23, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    Actually, this extends out even futher.

    There was a study not long ago that basically stated that people who were made to feel stupid or lesser, performed worse at the tasks than they would ordinarily.

    -So it’s not really their brains after all. To borrow a phrase, “The only thing they have to fear is fear itself.” +Besides, according to Malcolm Gladwell, as long as you have an IQ of 120+, you can do any job.

    I wonder what the evolutionary function of Anxiety was supposed to be originally?

    -Only thing I can think off-hand is “Freeze and the enemy can’t see you” ๐Ÿ˜€

  4. Marty

    March 23, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    You know, it’s easy to say, “Oh, any idiot could have predicted this result.” But some folk should read a little deeper before passing judgement.

    This study wasn’t trying to prove that math anxiety exists; we’ve known that for a long time. No, it was trying to find out if the anxiety correlates with dysfunction, and it does. The anxiety was accompanied by reduced activity in the parts of the brain responsible for mathematical problem solving. Interesting!

    And, to the person who feels that those with math anxiety should be cleaning toilets…you’re not very nice…and you’re ignorant. Lots of very, very successful people have math anxiety. It doesn’t mean they can’t do math; it means they learn it differently than others who don’t have the anxiety.

    I have a daughter who’s a 4.0 honor student about to graduate from community college–and she just turned 17. She panics over math, yet she’s got a genius-level IQ. I was the same way when I was her age, but I was a physics major in college. Neither of us will be “scrubbing toilets for a living”–not that there’s anything dishonorable about such honest work.

    You know, not all people who scrub toilets are idiots…and not all physicists are geniuses. And one’s occupation has nothing to do with the sort of person one turns out to be, in any case. At least my daughter can learn math. Some people will always be ignorant jerks.

  5. Lola

    March 23, 2012 at 4:20 pm

    The “No Child Left Behind” Bill has left so many children behind. Teachers teach for state testing and not your everyday math. If you don’t get what the Teacher is teaching, “to bad”, they are moving on anyway. It’s up to the parent to teach how to make change, simple adding, subtracting and multiplying isn’t taught anymore. So, yes, as a Jr. High Parent kids do have math anxiety. It started about 3rd grade when they have to start taking state tests. It has hit home in our City…Now, the Teachers are having to take the state tests to see if they could even pass. GET RID OF STATE TESTING! Give these kids a real, what they will use, everyday lesson…start at 1+1!

  6. Andre

    March 23, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    Thanks to the math geniuses for inventing these tools for us.

  7. Steve

    March 23, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    Did they stop to consider that the kids might have math anxiety because they’re just not any good at it? Not everyone has the same capacity to learn. I have a functional use of English grammar, but test me on parts of speech and punctuation and whatnot, and I’d be anxious too. It’s the situation, not the subject.

  8. SusieJ

    March 23, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    I’m surprised that the term “dyscalculia” was not mentioned. A learning disorder similar to dyslexia, only with numbers. I know a young man who has struggled with math since day one — an educational diagnostician diagnosed him at age 14 (finally). He was also diag with auditory memory disorder. You can name 6 items and ask him to repeat them right away. If he is lucky, he might remember 3 in the correct order. No big deal? Try going to your job and your boss rattles off what your new responsibilities will be — all 10 of them. You can only remember 2 and they’re out of order. Look it up on Wikipedia or just google the term. Inform yourself. It carries over into adulthood unless you are one of the fortunate few to find a teacher who specializes in teaching skills to help.

    Whoever thinks this is a joke, I hope a child in your family never suffers from this disorder. Don’t think you’re immune — evidence proves otherwise.

  9. RC

    March 23, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    Math anxiety is nothing more than a fear of the truth. Numbers don’t lie.

  10. Dave

    March 23, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    Scientists,(usually Ph.Ds) have shown for the first time how brain function differs in people who have math anxiety from those who donโ€™t. KEYWORD here is shown.

    A better understanding of the problem usually leads to a better way of addressing it.
    Glad to see the US still allows scientific research.

  11. Leo

    March 23, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    The solution is simple. We’ve got to get taxpayer funding for brain surgerys that remove the anxiety button.

  12. Tom

    March 23, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    It takes a phd to “discover” this? Ask some poor kid in the 4th who can’t learn how to divide, but who is the best reader/musician/speller/communicator/wittiest/friendly/socially gifted and “seemingly” very bright kid why he can’t learn. He may be smart enough to tell you what you can’t observe…apparently brains are “not” the same. Some peeps have the math designed brain and some not.

  13. Jeffrey Ventrella

    March 23, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    The problem is the educational system and the way math is taught. That is the big problem, and people keep themselves busy distracting themselves with other things, rather than trying to change the way kids learn math.

    Anxiety is normal and expected- especially given the sorry way math is being taught. No major insights here.

    • AlfredPChurch

      March 23, 2012 at 3:48 pm

      You are correct. There are several math programs for such children, with innovative ways of teaching math, they’ve been available for several years. However, it will take them another 20 years of study before they recognize and utilize these programs mainstream.

  14. asdf

    March 23, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    Hope they don’t also have toilet-scrubbing or floor-sweeping anxiety.

    • NotTrue

      March 23, 2012 at 3:39 pm

      To any young kid reading this comment, do not take it to heart. I am an adult and i am fairly certain I had math anxiety when I was younger & stil have it today. However, I am a professional in a highly respected and well regarded technical field. I have been successful in this field for over a decade. It is frustrating not being able to do the quick, off-of-the-top calculations. But that does not mean you will scrub toilets or sweep floors. Not true at all.

    • Silverwraith

      March 23, 2012 at 3:43 pm

      On a side note asdf, You are a d****e.

    • Dave

      March 23, 2012 at 3:47 pm

      Some people reveal their ignorance by making what they think are clever jokes.

    • OKRN

      March 23, 2012 at 4:26 pm

      Seriously asdf. I had horrible math anxiety and had to study my rear off to get a B in college algebra, but graduated near the top of my class in an extremely difficult nursing school. Did we need math? Yes. We have to do drug calculations. It doesn’t require outrageous math skills,but you’d better be accurate. Also, if you didn’t know, nurses make a pretty good living.

    • Vegetarianwino

      March 23, 2012 at 5:16 pm

      ASDF? What are those, homekeys for typing? The problem with children who have math anxiety stem partly from inadequate teaching, and partly from not giving the child the reasons for learning math -with some inspiration to become good at it. Children should learn math procedure in school and do the homework at home. It also helps if the parents are proficient in mathematics should odd questions arise.

      Questions like: Has anybody seen the movie “The Last Supper?”

  15. michael

    March 23, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    Tops in everything else but math. It’s like a fog or shroud covers you followed by feelings of dread. This has been all of my life and I’m 60 now. Thank the Lord for Calulators and Excel.

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Health

Doctors can now cure Ebola with a 90% survival rate

Two new ebola drugs have been found effective to treat infected patients and will be used to administer in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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Ebola can no longer be considered as an incurable disease, scientists claim as positive results have been found in a trial run of drugs in the Ebola-struck country of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

According to the research, which is still in its early stages, two of the four drugs in the trial was found to increase the survival rate of patients already infected by Ebola by up to 90% if treated early.

The trial is being conducted by an international research group coordinated by the World Health Organization (WHO) consisting of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and pharmaceutical companies.

“From now on, we will no longer say that Ebola is incurable,” said Prof Jean-Jacques Muyembe, the director-general of the Institut National de Recherche Biomédicale in DRC, which has overseen the trial. “These advances will help save thousands of lives.”

Although there is a pre-existing experimental vaccine against Ebola that medical practitioners are offering, it does little for the thousands of others that are already infected by the disease.

Just a month ago, the World Health Organization announced that the deadly Ebola virus is now an outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo making the virus a global health emergency.

The outbreak in Congo has been ongoing for almost a year, with 2,418 confirmed cases and 1,676 deaths. The WHO estimates 12 new cases are reported daily, making the situation the second deadliest Ebola epidemic ever.

In an effort to mitigate the ongoing outbreak and amid rising tensions in Congo, the research team sought to test four drugs to treat Ebola and measure its effectiveness.

Primarily, a drug called ZMapp is currently considered the standard of care during Ebola outbreaks. It had been tested and used during the devastating Ebola epidemic in West Africa in 2014 where the virus killed more than 11,000 people. In Particular, ZMapp was used in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea.

Patients who took Zmapp experienced an overall mortality rate of 49%, while the numbers can go as high as 75% for patients who do not seek medical treatment, Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said.

The trial was initiated back in November where patients from four treatment centers in the east side of the country—where the infection was the worst—were randomly assigned to receive one of four investigational therapies. Patients could either receive an antiviral drug called Remdesivir or one of three drugs that use monoclonal antibodies. 

The goal of the trial was to determine whether or not any of the four drugs administered were promising or effective enough to outperform the currently used Zmapp drug.

Based on the initial results of the experiment, scientists were able to significantly say that two of the four drugs—particular to those with monoclonal antibodies, which block the virus—had substantially more effect than Zmapp.

The preliminary data from the first 681 patients (out of a planned 725) showed results strong enough to prompt the WHO to stop the trial and to start administering the two effective drugs and to stop using both Zmapp and Remdesivir.

“This trial – the first-ever multi-drug randomized trial for Ebola – has happened despite such highly complex and challenging circumstance,” said Dr. Jeremy Farrar, the director of Wellcome and the co-chair of the WHO Ebola therapeutics group. “A long-running outbreak like this takes a terrible toll on the communities affected and it is a sign of just how difficult this epidemic has been to control that there have already been enough patients treated to tell us more about the efficacy of these four drugs.”

The monoclonal antibody cocktail produced by a company called Regeneron Pharmaceuticals had the biggest impact on lowering death rates, down to 29%, while NIAID’s monoclonal antibody, called mAb114, had a mortality rate of 34%. Consequently, death rates dropped to 11% with mAb114 and just 6% with Regeneron’s drug.

Comparatively, ZMapp’s mortality rate was 24% and 33% with Remdesivir.

Monoclonal antibody drugs are effective because they are a cocktail, and have become a mainstay of modern medicine. Primarily, these type drugs are used to create specific antibodies that hamper viruses like Ebola from infecting other cells but specifically is meant to effectively target Ebola’s shape-changing characteristics where drugs—that aren’t cocktails—are not effective of doing so.

Now, a new trial will start but this one will mainly focus on the effectiveness of the two drugs and to test particular situations where the drugs can be administered, according to the WHO’s director of health emergencies, Mike Ryan.

“Today’s news puts us one more step to saving more lives,” said Ryan. “The success is clear. But there’s also a tragedy linked to the success. The tragedy is that not enough people are being treated. We are still seeing too many people staying away from treatment centers, people not being found in time to benefit from these therapies.”

“We won’t ever get rid of Ebola but we should be able to stop these outbreaks from turning into major national and regional epidemics,” Farrar said.

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Canada-US Drug Import Plan Set To Provide Cheaper Alternative

Trump administration wants to make drugs imported from Canada legal and safe.

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In hopes for re-election, the Trump administration announced Wednesday that it would create a way for Americans to legally and safely import prescription drugs from Canada to address public outcry regarding price hikes.

President Donald Trump is feeling the pressure from a 2016 campaign promise, where he said to weaken the import ban on pharmaceutical drugs to provide cheaper alternatives.

If the promise goes through, this would be the first time that Canada will be allowed to import drugs to its neighbor country — reversing years of refusals by health authorities.

Health and Human Services Secretary, Alex Azar, made the announcement and said that the administration recognizes that prescription drug — manufacturing and distribution — is now international.

“The landscape and the opportunities for safe linkage between drug supply chains [have] changed,” Azar said.

“That is part of why, for the first time in HHS’s history, we are open to importation. We want to see proposals from states, distributors, and pharmacies that can help accomplish our shared goal of safe prescription drugs at lower prices,” the secretary added.

Previous administrations had been skeptical with the import of prescription drugs and have sided with the industry on the importation — noting concerns that those drugs could expose patients to risks from counterfeit or substandard medications.

However, this system has allowed U.S. pharmaceutical companies to raise prices without competition. In light of the upcoming 2020 election, health care has been a heated topic of debate, and candidates have made bold promises of changing the system to cater all Americans.

Furthermore, consumer complaints have also made waves, demanding legislation to change to rein in costs for life-sustaining drugs.

“For too long American patients have been paying exorbitantly high prices for prescription drugs that are made available to other countries at lower prices,” Azar said in a statement.

Most patients take affordable generic drugs to manage conditions such as high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol.

The prices for life-sustaining medications such as for cancer or hepatitis C infection annual costs can run up to $100,000 or much more. And long-available drugs like insulin have seen consecutive price increases that forced residents with diabetes to ration their doses.

As a form of protest, two groups have recently visited Canada to buy their much-needed insulin dosages, where a regular $350 to $450 vial in the U.S. can be purchased for only $35 to $45.

The second group was part of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign to roll back prices on insulin and other drugs and lead an example of how he wants to implement the same healthcare system in Canada to the U.S.

While U.S. regulations cannot keep prices low enough for low-income Americans, the Trump administration’s latest announcement will at least provide a cheaper alternative compared to the overpriced variants available in the country.

Azar, who used to be skeptical of drug importation, and was once quoted dismissing it as a gimmick, said U.S. patients would be able to import medications safely and effectively — with oversight from the Food and Drug Administration. This will also be able to qualm concerns regarding the quality of drugs being introduced in the country.

However, according to Azar, the complex regulations that the government is trying to create could take “weeks and months.” He called on Congress to pass legislation that would lend its muscle to the effort, making it harder to overturn the policy in court.

“The FDA has the resources to do this,” said acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless.

“The agency is interested in considering any reasonable proposal that maintains the bedrock of safety and efficacy for the American consumer,” the commissioner added.

Per usual, the pharmaceutical industry opposed the move and indicated that it would be reckless and jeopardizes patients.

Stephen Ubl, president of the industry group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, called the plan “far too dangerous” for American patients.

“There is no way to guarantee the safety of drugs that come into the country from outside the United States’ gold-standard supply chain,” Ubl said in a statement. “Drugs coming through Canada could have originated from anywhere in the world.”

Other than from the American side, Canadian pharmacists fear changes to medication purchasing regulations in the U.S. will lead to further drug shortages during an already stressful period.

Canadian pharmacies are already experiencing shortages of more than 1,000 medications, amounting to the worst deficit seen in more than 30 years.

Joelle Walker, the vice president of public affairs for the Canadian Pharmacists Association, worries that on top of the potential drug shortages, the change in regulation could also increase the prices of drugs for Canadians.

“Pharmacists are there every day; they want to help patients that walk through their doors,” she said. “Our concern is what policies can be put in place to make sure that we’re not seeing massive amounts of medications that are designed for the Canadian market that end up going to the United States?”

Meanwhile, in response to speculation regarding the reliability and safety of drugs coming from Canada, the office of Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said in a statement that they are proud of Canada’s health care system and that the U.S.’ interest in Canadian medications is evidence of their “commitment to more affordable prescription drugs.”

Furthermore, addressing fears for Canadian drug supplies, Taylor said:

“Ensuring that Canadians have access to the medicines they need is one of our top priorities,” the statement continues. “We constantly monitor Canada’s drug supply, will be working closely with health experts to understand the implications for Canadians better and will ensure there are no adverse effects to the supply or cost of prescription drugs in Canada.”

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Two Competitive Teens Suffered Kidney Failure Because Of Squatting Too Much

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Two teenage girls from China went straight to the ICU after an uber-competitive match of who could do the most squats went out of control.

For 2 to 3 hours, the two girls claimed to have done at least 1,000 squats — an impressive number for someone who frequents the gym — but terrifying if you’re not the most active type of person.

“This is too embarrassing to say. I was chatting with [my friend] in Guandong over the Internet,” one of the girls, Xiao Tang, a 19-year-old sophomore at a college in Chongqing, China told China Press from the hospital.

Both of them started the competition over chatting online and bickering who had better stamina. Thus, they decided a squatting match would be a light exercise for them to determine who bested who.

Notably, both Xiao and her friend had immense competitive drives, and neither one of them are willing to back down and stop squatting.

“We both did not want to lose, and so we kept trying to beat each other,” she explained.

Eventually, both of them reached up to a thousand squats until they decided to call the match even.

Given that they were not entirely new to the idea of a workout, a little soreness and pain was expected.

But when the pain started to become unbearable, they figured that this was not the result of a simple workout.

“Something was wrong in the morning,” Xiao said. “First of all, my leg was not only sore, but I couldn’t bend it. Then I went to the bathroom and [my] urine was brown.”

Upon discovering the color of her urine, and along with the tremendous pain she was in, Xiao decided to seek medical treatment with the help of her boyfriend.

Doctors diagnosed Xiao with rhabdomyolysis, a severe condition caused by skeletal muscle injury.

It is not often for people to get diagnosed with this complication due to the result of extreme exercise or stress, but it remains to be a possibility.

Rhabdomyolysis occurs when the bloodstream is pumped too much with dead muscle fibers, to the point where they can overwhelm the kidneys.

Once both kidneys are compromised because of the amount of these dead muscle fibers that it needs to filter from the body, it could lead to severe and potentially fatal complications such as kidney failure and death.

In essence, because Xiao’s kidney was beginning to show signs of giving up and inability to do its job, her urine turned brown.

However, dead muscle fibers in the body’s bloodstream are not a bad sign at all. It is a natural result every time the body exerts physical effort.

It is basically how we build muscles, break them down every time we go on a long run, or lift some weights for them to heal, be better, and stronger. Each time we do this, we send out a protein called myoglobin through the bloodstream and to your kidneys, which filter them out.

The problem started for both these girls when they worked out too fast in such a short time. Meaning, their bodies were not accustomed to performing extremely strenuous activities; in this case, squatting 1,000 times when they have hardly done any prior exercise.

The way the body works is that it can train itself to handle heavier loads of strain, but this is developed over time. Doctors are not saying that doing a thousand squats is a bad thing, but doing so without proper training could certainly lead to severe complications.

”Getting this condition through extreme exercise is rare, ” Dr. Bruce Cohen, a medical officer for the FBI, told Live Science. ”Squats aren’t dangerous in and of themselves. The girls likely exerted themselves well above their physical limits to cause the condition.”

Rhabdomyolysis can also develop due to trauma, heatstroke, or the use of certain drugs, but for young people, overexertion seems to be a common cause. In 2018, a 17-year-old boy was hospitalized for five days after one strenuous, 90-minute weight-lifting session (he had not worked out for several years before the incident.) Another teen was diagnosed with it in 2015 after completing two strenuous football practices on the same day.

“Listen to your body,” Cohen said. “Don’t be stupid.”

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