There’s no such thing as a “maths brain”, it’s all in the mind say experts.
The myth of the “maths brain” impacts learning and progress. It’s how we think about our ability and our attitude that matters most.
We’ve probably all heard someone say “she’s good at maths, it’s easy for her” or “he’s got a maths brain”.
But no one is born good or bad at maths, it’s how we approach it and how we learn to think about it, says Dr Junaid Mubeen director of education at Whizz Education.
Dr Mubeen believes stereotypes about who is “good at maths” and what maths is are unhelpful. Maths is everywhere, in music, cooking and even navigation around a new city.
“We all have a maths brain, the brain has evolved to think mathematically. In our day-to-day lives we are good at seeing patterns and solving problems,” says Dr Mubeen.
“We seem to dismiss maths ability too quickly and look at it in a binary way. Having a maths brain, or not, is not a phrase we should use.”
If you think of your ability to do maths as fixed it can even stop you from reaching your potential. That can mean children don’t achieve as well as they could.
“The theory of the growth model in education is about a mindset, a belief that your intelligence is not fixed and with effort and hard work you can become smarter. If you promote that message it can lead to better learning,” says Dr Mubeen.
The opposite of a growth mindset is a fixed mindset. That can hinder progress.
If you think it’s fixed and your brain’s not wired for maths what’s the motivation to try harder?
The maths brain myth can be damaging. Deciding you don’t have a maths brain is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“Whenever anyone talks about having a maths brain, or not, what they are really talking about is mental maths arithmetic,” says Dr Mubeen.
“When people say they couldn’t do maths at school they probably meant things like times tables.
“But when you think about what maths is it’s about seeing patterns and solving problems.
“I would argue we all have a maths brain. But there is a particular set of skills, promoted in schools, which is not very natural to the human brain, which some people get on with better.”
No one says they don’t have a reading brain or a history brain, it’s only maths that gets thought about this way, which shows just how high some levels of anxiety about the subject are.
Dr Mubeen added: “You don’t see it in any other subject that people have given up because they can’t do it. But because it’s maths there’s this idea you can do it or not and that it’s black and white.
“I would say we’ve all got a maths brain if we think of maths in another way. It’s about patterns and putting together arguments.
“It’s okay to say there’s always variation. Some students have a better aptitude for maths, but education is about giving every child the opportunity to achieve.
“I would say everyone has a maths brain and every child should be able to succeed.
“They are not all necessarily going to become mathematicians but everyone can do well at maths. If we give up on that it’s cruel.”