Who’s afraid of math? Study finds some genetic factors

As someone who’s never been good at math, I found this particularly interesting.  It’s strange that I’ve always been in the top tier of programmers on any team I worked on, easily gotten As in any programming class I took, and that programmers as a general breed tend to be good at math, but I’ve always invariably sucked at it.  Go figure.

I have to admit that the idea of being able to blame it on my genes is appealing.

A new study of math anxiety shows how some people may be at greater risk to fear math not only because of negative experiences, but also because of genetic risks related to both general anxiety and math skills. The results don’t mean that math anxiety can be blamed solely or even mostly on genetic factors, the researchers emphasized. In this study, genetic factors explained about 40 percent of the individual differences in math anxiety.

more at Who’s afraid of math? Study finds some genetic factors — ScienceDaily.

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9 Responses to Who’s afraid of math? Study finds some genetic factors

  1. teaching math, I’d guess that math is somehow related to genetic factors and environmental just as strongly – and so the study indicates. I like math but teaching math, I found that environmental factors have a part to play in my performance. In class, of course I could not investigate the problems too deeply with students, but many-many-many could not retain the rules of mathematics for long enough to master the exams… although, in class they may excel in a practice immediately after instruction.

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    • I think my issue may have been either with the way math was generally taught during my formative school years, or maybe with the notations. I don’t know. I’ve always said that I was dangerous with a calculator but fairly impotent without that kind of aid.

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  2. Steve Morris says:

    Very surprising that you find programming easy but maths hard. I always imagined that the two skill sets were very closely aligned. But then again, I find maths easy but am baffled by accountancy. I understand double-entry book-keeping when it is explained to me, but a week later I cannot see its point.

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    • Many people have found it surprising over my life. Teachers always assumed that it just had to be a motivation problem since my grades were usually pretty good in other subjects, and my parents usually assumed it had to be the math teacher’s fault, at least until it became clear my struggles persisted across several teachers.

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  3. Steve Morris says:

    In Britain we learn maths, whereas in America you just learn math. Go figure! As an American might say :)

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  4. Larry says:

    I was also an excellent programmer but started doing poorly in math around the time of trigonometry. I regret that I never even bothered with calculus. However, I loved geometry (the pre-algebra kind), especially proving theorems. My guess is that writing programs and proving theorems are similar activities that involve standard logic skills, while performing mathematical operations (beyond addition or division, say) require something more. For example, I had a very hard time remembering the different trigonometric functions.

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    • Ugh, trigonometry. I think I struggled more with it than even calculus.

      Having thought about this since yesterday, for me, I think the issue was that math was never fun for me, only tedium. Programming was originally about trying to write my own games, and the sense of exploration continued long after that wasn’t my goal anymore. If someone had explained to me that trig was used for figuring out how far away stars are and calculus for calculating spacecraft trajectories, I might have been all over them.

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