In high school, I was far more likely to be geeking out about the Orwellian significance 2+2=5 than any equation actually presented in the pages of a real algebra textbook. Sure, my interests skewed more bookish than binomial, but that was largely because math made me feel bad about myself—it straight-up stressed me out. And as it turns out, there’s an actual term for the “I just suck at math” mentality that makes your heartbeat quicken at the mere thought of a fraction: math trauma.
“Math trauma stems from an event, a series of events, or a set of circumstances experienced by an individual as harmful or threatened such that there are lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and well-being in the perceived presence of mathematics,” Kasi Allen, PhD, a math activist (yes, math activist), tells Creative Maths. This is why the dreaded timed division tests of your youth have literally scarred you into never straying from your smartphone calculator when it comes time to split the bill.
That timed division test of your youth may have literally scarred you into never straying from your smartphone calculator when it comes time to split the bill.
Research has shown that those affected by this trauma are dominantly female, low-income, and nonwhite. And while scientists don’t yet know the exact cause of the trauma, it’s believed that both gender and racial stereotypes play a role. As a remedy, Dr. Allen recommends first acknowledging that you suffer from the trauma. Then, Jennifer Ruef, PhD and education studies teacher at the University of Oregon says it’s a great idea to befriend your nemesis by way of games (like Tetris) and puzzles, reports Tonic. And of course parents should be extra careful to not tell their children that they’re “not math people”—even if in jest.
Hey, you don’t have to love trig or anything. But not having a literal aversion to it? Well, that’s a prime goal. (Get it? A math joke!)
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