It is no secret that a good grasp of mathematics is an important asset for any businessperson. With the early stage entrepreneur, I think it is even more critical.
Researchers estimate that between 50 percent and 80 percent of U.S. adults, and probably a similar share of children, suffer from some form of math anxiety. That fear translates into subpar performance of children, experts say. Researchers ranked American students 24th out of 29 industrialized countries in math literacy. Nice.
It has also been estimated that over 50% of new businesses fail in the 1st year of operation. An additional 90-95% fail within the first five years.
Now, there are lots of reasons why businesses fail, and I’m not going to even attempt to convince you that math anxiety is the sole cause – it isn’t. But I do believe that it plays a part.
How will the entrepreneur properly allocate capital, manage the assets of the business, and properly diagnose possible warning signs, if they don’t have a fundamental grasp of mathematics?
A recent study discovered that math anxiety, or the fear of mathematics, actually “saps the working memory needed to do math.” Go figure. The more you worry about it, the less successful you will be.
Worrying about how you’ll perform on a math test may actually contribute to a lower test score, U.S. researchers said on Saturday.
Math anxiety — feelings of dread and fear and avoiding math — can sap the brain’s limited amount of working capacity, a resource needed to compute difficult math problems, said Mark Ashcroft, a psychologist at the University of Nevada Los Vegas who studies the problem.
“It turns out that math anxiety occupies a person’s working memory,” said Ashcroft, who spoke on a panel at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco.
Ashcroft said while easy math tasks such as addition require only a small fraction of a person’s working memory, harder computations require much more.
Worrying about math takes up a large chunk of a person’s working memory stores as well, spelling disaster for the anxious student who is taking a high-stakes test.
Stress about how one does on tests like college entrance exams can make even good math students choke. “All of a sudden they start looking for the short cuts,” said University of Chicago researcher Sian Beilock.
Although test preparation classes can help students overcome this anxiety, they are limited to students whose families can afford them.
Ultimately, she said, “It may not be wise to rely completely on scores to predict who will succeed.”
While the causes of math anxiety are unknown, Ashcroft said people who manage to overcome math anxiety have completely normal math proficiency.