Genetic factors may put some people at a greater risk of developing math anxiety, a new study has found.
Researchers from the Ohio State University found that 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 study, which examined how fraternal and identical twins differ on measures of math anxiety, provides a revised view on why some children - and adults - may develop a fear of math that makes it more difficult for them to solve math problems and succeed in school.
"We found that math anxiety taps into genetic predispositions in two ways: people's cognitive performance on math and their tendency toward anxiety," said Zhe Wang, lead author of the study and postdoctoral researcher in psychology at The Ohio State University.
In the study, genetic factors explained about 40 per cent of the individual differences in math anxiety. Much of the rest was explained by the different environments - in the school, in the home and elsewhere - that the twins experienced.
The results do not mean that math anxiety can be blamed solely or even mostly on genetic factors, the researchers cautioned.
But the findings do suggest that we can't say that classroom quality, aspects of the home, or other environmental factors are the only reasons why people differ in how they experience math, researchers said.
"Genetic factors may exacerbate or reduce the risk of doing poorly at math,” said Stephen Petrill, professor of psychology at Ohio State, and the principal investigator of the study.
"If you have these genetic risk factors for math anxiety and then you have negative experiences in math classes, it may make learning that much harder. It is something we need to account for when we''re considering interventions for those who need help in math,"Petrill said.
The study will be published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.