Positive Attitude Toward Math Predicts Math Achievement, Stanford University Medical Center Study Finds

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Kids with a positive attitude toward math perform better in the subject, a new Stanford University School of Medicine study found. For the first time, and in a study of elementary school students, scientists have managed to identify the brain pathway that links a positive attitude with achievement in math.

Researchers at Stanford found that having a positive attitude about math was connected to better function of the hippocampus — a small region of the brain primarily associated with spatial navigation and memory — during the solving of mathematical problems.

Until now, and although educators have long observed high scores in children who perceive themselves as being better at math, it has not been clear if a positive attitude simply reflects competence and higher IQ.

According to the new Stanford University Medical Center study, even though IQ is important, a positive attitude still predicts achievement.

“Based on our data, the unique contribution of positive attitude to math achievement is as large as the contribution from IQ,” said Lang Chen, PhD, the study’s lead author.

The study’s senior author, Vinod Menon, PhD, found the link surprising, since researchers had previously thought that it was the brain’s reward centers that drive the link between achievement and positive attitude.

It is actually the other way round; if a child has a strong interest in math and perceives itself to be good at the subject, this results in more focused engagement and even enhanced memory.

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The children’s level of math achievement was measured with tests and the researchers administered standard questionnaires, assessing IQ and memory capacity, to 240 children under the age of 10.

Children answered a survey that assessed their attitude towards math, and their legal guardians answered surveys about their kids’ general emotional and behavioral characteristics.

The study’s senior author, Vinod Menon, PhD, claims these findings offer a potential for how inspiring, passionate teachers can nurture a student’s learning capacities.

In the study’s lead author, Lang Chen’s words, a positive attitude does not guarantee a child will do well in math, but it “opens the door,” Lang said, adding that “Having a positive attitude acts directly on your memory and learning system. I think that’s really important and interesting.”

While this Stanford University School of Medicine’s study is the first study to identify the brain pathway that links positive attitude and achievement when it comes to mathematics, a study by the University of California, Riverside, titled “Does Happiness Promote Career Success,” found that happiness often precedes success in the workplace.