Do You Have Math Anxiety? Maybe This Is Why

Your math-related anxiety may not be solely attributed to that one year in school when your teacher forced you to recite the seven-times tables in front of the class. A new study suggests your genes could play a role, too.

Researchers from The Ohio State University found that genetic factors could play some role in people's math anxiety, particularly through disposition to general anxiety and through cognitive performance in math skills.

"You say the word 'math' and some people actually cringe," study researcher Stephen Petrill, a professor of psychology at the university, said in a statement. "It is not like learning how to read, in which people don't normally have any general anxiety unless they have some kind of difficulty."

However, the researchers emphasized that genes should not be wholly blamed for a person's math anxiety (in fact, they found that just 40 percent of individual differences in math anxiety seemed to be explained by genetics). Environment and teaching quality also play a huge role.

But the study does show that "if you have these genetic risk factors for math anxiety and then you have negative experiences in math classes, it may make learning that much harder," Petrill said in the statement. "It is something we need to account for when we're considering interventions for those who need help in math."

The study, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, is based on data from 216 identical twins and 298 same-sex fraternal twins in Ohio who completed assessments in math anxiety and general anxiety, as well as in reading comprehension and math problem-solving. The participants began the study when they were in kindergarten or first grade, and then researchers followed up with them via home visits. This study in particular used data from these home visits that were conducted until the study participants were between ages 9 and 15.

Previous research on math anxiety has shown that people who have it have increased brain activity in the regions linked with fear. Plus, that increased activity in the "fear" regions of the brain was associated with decreased activity in the brain's problem-solving regions, according to a recent Psychological Science study.