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Thursday, December 10, 2015

Positive Mindset May Prime Students' Brains for Math

Scans provide support for theory. - "When students have a positive attitude about math, their brains operate more efficiently, according to researchers from Stanford University." summarizes Sarah D. Sparks, blogs at Inside School Research.

Photo: Education Week

Having a positive mindset in math may do more than just help students feel more confident about their skills and more willing to keep trying when they fail; it may prime their brains to think better.
In an ongoing series of experiments at Stanford University, neuroscientists have found more efficient brain activity during math thinking in students with a positive mindset about math.

It's part of a growing effort to map the biological underpinnings of what educators call a positive or growth mindset, in which a student believes intelligence or other skills can be improved with training and practice, rather than being fixed and inherent traits.

Photo: Lang Chen
"Our findings provide strong evidence that a positive mindset contributes to children's math competence," said Lang Chen, a Stanford University postdoctoral fellow in cognitive psychology and neuroscience. "Beyond the emotional or even motivational story of 'positive mindset,' there may be cognitive functions supporting the story."

Seeing a Mind in the Brain 
In a forthcoming study previewed at the Society for Neuroscience's annual meeting in Chicago in October, Chen and colleagues tested 243 children ages 7 to 9 for intelligence, numerical problem-solving and math reasoning in word problems, reading ability, working memory, and math-anxiety levels. Chen also gave the students a survey designed to identify positive-mindset levels in math, such as questions about how much they enjoyed solving challenging problems and how competent they felt in learning math.

The researchers focused on math because other studies have found that a student's mindset can be different for different domains—he or she could believe that reading ability can be improved but that skill at soccer is innate, for example—and math is a subject often associated with a fixed mindset.

Of the children in the study, 47 were asked to either stare at a fixed point or identify whether a series of addition problems were correct while being scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, a noninvasive method of identifying brain activity by measuring changes in blood flow in the brain.

Chen and his colleagues found that students with higher positive-mindset levels in math were more accurate at identifying correct and incorrect math problems, even after controlling for differences in IQ, age, working memory, reading ability, and math anxiety.
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Source: Education Week

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