The Neurocognitive Architecture of Individual Differences in Math Anxiety in Typical Children

Charlotte Hartwright, Chung Yen Looi, Francesco Sella, Alberto Inuggi, Flávia Heloísa Santos, Carmen González-Salinas, Jose García Santos, Roi Cohen Kadosh, Luis Fuentes

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Math Anxiety (MA) is characterized by a negative emotional response when facing math-related situations. MA is distinct from general anxiety and can emerge during primary education. Prior studies typically comprise adults and comparisons between high- versus low-MA, where neuroimaging work has focused on differences in network activation between groups when completing numerical tasks. The present study used voxel-based morphometry (VBM) to identify the structural brain correlates of MA in a sample of 79 healthy children aged 7–12 years. Given that MA is thought to develop in later primary education, the study focused on the level of MA, rather than categorically defining its presence. Using a battery of cognitive- and numerical-function tasks, we identified that increased MA was associated with reduced attention, working memory and math achievement. VBM highlighted that increased MA was associated with reduced grey matter in the left anterior intraparietal sulcus. This region was also associated with attention, suggesting that baseline differences in morphology may underpin attentional differences. Future studies should clarify whether poorer attentional capacity due to reduced grey matter density results in the later emergence of MA. Further, our data highlight the role of working memory in propagating reduced math achievement in children with higher MA.
Original languageEnglish
Article number8500
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2018

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© The Author(s) 2018

Funding: Authors CEH FS, and RCK were supported by the European Research Council (Learning and Achievement,
award number 338065). Authors LJF, FHS, JMGS and CGS were supported by grant PSI2017-84556-P from
Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness (FEDER funding).


  • math anxiety
  • brain
  • voxel based morphometry
  • attention
  • psychology
  • neuroscience
  • cognition
  • children
  • development


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