Does the idea of crunching numbers (or splitting a check amongst a group of friends) make you nervous? You may be scared for a good reason. According to new research from the University of Chicago, “mathematics anxiety” can elicit a response in the brain comparable to experiencing physical pain.
Researchers scanned the brains of participants as they solved problems, some involving math. Surprisingly, researchers discovered that the anticipation of having to do math, and not actually the act of doing math, activated the pain sensor regions of the brain.
Study author Ian Lyons, PhD graduate in psychology from the University of Chicago and a postdoctoral scholar at Western University in Ontario, Canada, compares the response to getting a shot from your doctor. “When you see the needle coming, you mentally shrink away,” explain Lyons. “It’s the gut reaction of ‘here’s a thing coming that will hurt me,’ even though rationally you know it’s not true,” he says.
Essentially, if you have high math anxiety (meaning you have a tendency to avoid math-related situations), you only consider the negative aspect of doing math, which can feel very threatening, says Lyons. “These individuals are simulating the worst-case scenarios—they can really only see math going badly—and that can fill them with a feeling of dread, which can be painful to a certain extent,” says Lyons.
So how can you lessen the blow? Lots of math homework probably isn’t the answer, says Lyons. The solution is to treat the anxiety itself, he explains, and reassess your approach to math entirely. Luckily, there’s an app for that.
For downloadable shortcuts to offset the math-related brain pain, we turned to our own smart phones, as well as Veronica Belmont, co-host of web show Tekzilla on Revision3.com, for recommendations. Here, 4 cool number-crunching apps to download today:
$ .99 (iOS)
Not only does this app keep track of who owes what, you can also split items (in case you shared that order of sweet potato fries) and wirelessly enable your dining partners to help figure out the math.
Free (iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone, Palm)
Need to track your expenses remotely? You can scan receipts, log mileage, and consolidate everything into a report once you’re back at your computer. Plus it can do all the calculations for you.
$ 2.99 (iOS)
Converting units, whether it’s inches to centimeters, ounces to cups, fehrenheit to celcius, etc, is a pain in the butt. Convert handles it all seamlessely, and has a built-in calculator so you don’t have to switch back and forth between apps.
Free (iOS, Android)
Stumped at how much to leave your server? This free app isn’t fancy, but it easily allows you to divide up the bill and the tip for your meal separately, so nobody overpays (or accidentally leaves a tiny tip) again.
Top image: iStockphoto/Thinkstock, App images: Courtesy of Apple
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