Entries in math (6)


Brain Stimulation Increases Ability to do Math

iStockphoto(OXFORD, England) -- Bad at math? A new study by researchers at Oxford University suggests that applying high-frequency electrical noise to the brain can make you better at math for up to six months following treatment.

According to BBC News, 51 Oxford students participated in the small study appearing in Current Biology. Over a five-day period the students had to complete two arithmetic problems each day. Half were given transcranial random noise stimulation, or TRNS.

Six months later, the group that had received the TRNS preformed much better when asked to solve math problems than the control group.

Dr Roi Cohen Kadosh, study author from the department of experimental psychology at the University of Oxford, explained that the results “suggested that TRNS increases the efficiency with which stimulated brain areas use their supplies of oxygen and nutrients."

Dr Michael Proulx, senior lecturer in psychology at Bath University, told BBC News that using TRNS this was could have "real, applied impact," and could help those with learning disabilities or who are suffering from a stroke or other neurodegenerative illness.

Experts stress, however, that more testing is required before the practice becomes widespread, so don’t expect to hear math teachers telling students to put away their TRNS machines before tests anytime soon.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Math Anxiety in School? Scientists Have It Too

Photodisc/Thinkstock(BRISTOL, England) -- Tell us if this describes you.  You’re a smart person who did well in school.  You were interested in science, but you didn’t pursue it because you were worried about all the math you’d have to learn.

Sound familiar?  Apparently biologists suffer from math anxiety too, at least according to a study in Monday’s edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Tim Fawcett and Andrew Higginson, two biologists at the University of Bristol in England, searched a giant database of scientific papers and found that if a paper had more than one equation per page, it was half as likely to be followed up on by other scientists.  It was mentioned half as often in later papers, at least in their footnotes.

“Articles less than 10 pages long with up to 0.5 equations per page are just as well cited as those with no equations, but increasing the equation density to more than one equation per page more than halves the number of nontheoretical citations,” they write in their paper.

Stephen Hawking famously worried about math anxiety. He pointed out that his 1988 bestseller, A Brief History of Time, had only one equation in it -- Einstein’s E = mc2.  An editor had warned him that any more would scare readers away.

This is a big deal, say the researchers at Bristol, and one that had never been quantified before.  Modern biology, like other sciences, is increasingly based on math; think of all the studies of genetically based diseases.  Scientists publish their work in order to spread knowledge -- to get other researchers to expand on their findings, or knock them down.

But if fewer scientists are looking, they say, that’s trouble.

“It is not easy to quantify the impact on the progress of knowledge, but potentially some important theoretical contributions have been overlooked,” said Higginson in an email to ABC News.  Math, he said, “is getting more and more important because complex biological processes are hard to understand without using mathematical models. The problem may therefore be getting worse.”

Fawcett joined in: “If new theories are presented in a way that is off-putting to other scientists, then no one will perform the crucial experiments needed to test those theories,” he said in a statement to accompany the paper. “This presents a barrier to scientific progress.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Childhood Obesity Affects Math Performance, Study Says

Fuse/Getty Images(COLUMBIA, Mo.) -- Childhood obesity affects math performance in school, along with children's social skills and well-being, according to a new study published in the journal Child Development.

Researchers from the University of Missouri analyzed data of more than 6,000 children in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort, which collected information from children starting in kindergarten and following them through the fifth grade.  At five different times, parents reported family dynamics and teachers reported on the children's social skills and emotional well-being.  Researchers tested the children on academics, and recorded their height and weight.

Kids who were obese throughout the study period performed worse on math tests in the first through fifth grades than children who were not obese.

"Obesity that persists across the elementary school years has the potential to compromise several areas of children's development, including their social and emotional well-being and academic performance," said Sara Gable, associate professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at University of Missouri and lead author of the study.

In addition to the math performance findings, obese children reportedly felt sadder, lonelier and more anxious than kids of healthier weights.  Researchers said this emotional well-being also could contribute to their poorer performances in math.

Obesity among children continues to grow in the U.S.; 17 percent, or about 12.5 million, of children and teens are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 1980, obesity among the youth population has nearly tripled. One in seven low-income pre-school children is obese.

While weight may indeed contribute to poor school performance, there are likely several confounding factors that also contribute to an obese child's overall well-being, experts said.

"Obesity does not prevent kids from doing math, but obesity develops in families where there may be less oversight, less education, fewer resources," said Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale Prevention Center.

"Stress has been shown to affect brain development and functioning," Dr. Jennifer Cross, a pediatrician at the Komansky Center for Children's Health at NY-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, wrote in an email.  "If obesity causes a child to feel chronically stressed (i.e. bullying, low self esteem, etc.), that could lead to differences in the brain."

While it is difficult to say whether obesity actually affects cognition, "we certainly can say that obesity affects everything from self-esteem to social standing to mood and even hormonal balance, so the likelihood that there would be a whole cascade of effects between weight and math test scores is very high," said Katz.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Brains of Kids With Math Anxiety Function Differently, Says Study

Fuse/Getty Images(STANFORD, Calif.) -- Kids who get the jitters before a math test may actually have different brain functions than kids without math anxiety, according to a new study.

Researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine recruited about 50 second and third graders and separated them into either a high-math anxiety group or a low-anxiety group based on a standard questionnaire they modified for 7- to 9-year-olds.  They scanned the children’s brains while the kids did addition and subtraction problems.

They found that children with a high level of math anxiety were slower at solving problems and were less accurate than children with lower math anxiety.

“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,” said Vinod Menon, a co-author and professor of child psychiatry, neurology and neuroscience at Stanford.  “We also saw reduced activity in areas normally associated with mathematical problem solving.”

Math anxiety in young children has not been widely studied, and there are no clearly established criteria for diagnosis, Menon said.

“Math anxiety is underappreciated in young children, but it is very real and very stimulus-specific,” Menon said.  “These children do not have high levels of general anxiety.”

It’s unclear what type of long-term impact math anxiety has on children since it’s an area that hasn’t been widely studied in this age group, according to Menon.  But previous research in adolescents and adults has found that math anxiety led many people to avoid advanced math classes, which later affected their career choices.

The findings, the authors said, could eventually be used to develop ways to address this specific type of anxiety, which “has significant implications for an individual’s long-term academic and professional success,” they wrote.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Children of Divorce Show Deficits in Math and Social Skills

Comstock/Thinkstock(MADISON, Wis.) -- Most studies on divorce find that it has an adverse effect on children’s development, with some disadvantages being observed in high school completion rates, cognitive skills, psychosocial well-being as well as social relations.  However, many of these studies don’t differentiate between the effect of the divorce process and that of the family discord that usually precedes it.  Now a University of Wisconson-Madison study has drawn distinctions between those two periods.

The study author analyzed the math, reading and social skills of over 3,500 children from the time they were in kindergarten until they reached fifth grade.  She found that children who experienced parental divorce between first and third grade performed worse on math tests and exhibited poorer interpersonal skills than children of continually married parents. Reading test scores were not affected at any time.

These deficits were apparent both during the divorce period and after, but not before.  It seems that the negative effects of divorce occur during and after the divorce, but not during the pre-divorce period of “family discord" -- in this case, the period between kindergarten and 1st grade.
The author points out there are some limitations to this study.  First, it’s not known whether the children’s performance changes after fifth grade -- some experts argue that the effects are long-lasting, while others say that children recover as time passes.  Secondly, these observations are only applicable to cases of divorce occurring between first and third grade, and not to children experiencing divorce at any other age.

The study's findings are published in the American Sociological Review.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Brain Stimulation Might Improve Day-to-Day Math Skills

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(OXFORD, England) -- Math: people either love it or hate it. For all the haters out there, what if a little zap to the brain could put you on the road to math whizdom?

A new study from the University of Oxford found that applying electrical currents to certain parts of the brain improved a person's mathematical performance for up to six months.

"We are very excited to see these results," said Dr. Roi Cohen Kadosh of the University of Oxford and lead author of the study. "We actually aimed to get to this stage in a few years, but we got here sooner than expected."

The researchers used a kind of stimulation known as transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS. It is a non-invasive technique where a weak electrical current is applied to the parietal lobe, an area of the brain responsible for numerical understanding, spatial sense and navigation.

The study was small and still in the early stages of research, which caused some doctors to voice skepticism about whether practical applications would ever arise in the findings. Still, the developments are exciting in the realm of brain research.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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