Maths Phobia: an Unconventional View


This post is based on a mixture of personal experience and information that can be found on the Internet. It makes no claim to be scholarly in any sense. However, I hope that it might serve to provoke informed discussion about the perennial issue of maths anxiety.


I have been a numerate person for as long as I can remember, and I attribute this to the generally good understanding of maths by all my school teachers. In my middle years, I was trained as a teacher by teachers who themselves modelled best practice. A few years ago, I was accepted to run a workshop aimed at addressing maths anxiety in participants. It seemed to me that the logical thing to do was to give a sample session on maths while modelling best practice. The results surprised me. While some participants felt they had benefited, others went away feeling even more anxious about maths. The time has come to put that experience into a wider context.

Other Sources

There is a growing body of evidence of differences in what is happening in the brain between people who suffer from maths anxiety and those who do not. Ruth J. Hickman wrote this piece which is suitable for the general reader. For people more interested the neurological basis of maths anxiety, there is this article by Ian M. Lyons and Sian L. Beilock. These are just two examples that can be found on the Internet, and there are plenty more.

A Wider Perspective

While there is a wealth of self-help techniques available on the Internet, I think that they miss the point: anxiety is a psychological condition, and it should be treated first and foremost by a clinical psychologist, and done so in conjunction with a maths teacher who understands the existing maths skills and knowledge of the anxious person. There appears to be very little discussion on this approach, and while it may seem a “suggestion too far” for some people, I hope it provokes comment from others. Given the cost to society of innumeracy, can we afford not to involve psychologists in this?

2 thoughts on “Maths Phobia: an Unconventional View

  1. There are many people who could help: teachers, psychologists, employers, colleagues, friends and parents. It takes knowledge, patience and understanding.

    Some interesting reading:
    Math anxiety. Can teachers help students reduce it?,%202014.pdf

    Learning and fearing mathematics: Insights from psychology and neuroscience

    “My Self-Esteem Has Risen Dramatically”: A Case-Study of Pre-Service Teacher Action Research Using Bibliotherapy to Address Mathematics Anxiety (from MATHEMATICS: TRADITIONS AND [NEW] PRACTICES)
    “… Mathematics anxiety is a learned emotional response, characterised by a feeling that mathematics cannot make sense, of helplessness, tension, and lack of control over one‟s learning. Mathematics anxiety has been associated with inappropriate teaching practices, and a prevalent belief that success in mathematics is determined by ability rather than effort…The impact of teachers’ beliefs about mathematics can be far-reaching in promoting positive outcomes for students…”

  2. Hello Micky,
    Thanks for your words and your links. I think that if we can start raising awareness of the psychological aspects of this issue, then we might start getting somewhere.

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