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Chapter 7

Research with people who struggle with numbers

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#Numbers, trauma and mental health 

Unlike dyscalculia which originates in the brain, maths anxiety and low numeracy can be caused by traumatic learning experiences related to numbers. These experiences happen in school when we learn to understand and process numbers.

National Numeracy found that negative school maths experience is linked to lower number confidence and lower maths attainment.

Negative experiences might include bullying for being late to class, failing to remember tasks, doing multiplications wrong, and not telling the time. 

According to research by the University of Derby, teachers are viewed as figures of punishment from an early age, with children worrying about being told off if they get their work wrong or don’t complete it.

In adulthood, living with dyscalculia can be embarrassing, shameful and exhausting. Some people mask their dyscalculia or maths anxiety and hide it from others. They might regress from social activities like competitions and games.

People with maths anxiety are more likely to think, “I’m going to get this wrong” or “I’m taking too long,“ affecting mental health. 

Struggling with numbers may impact someone's ability and willingness to understand and engage in essential topics like inflation, climate change and health emergencies like Covid 19. 

Our ability to understand, plan, and budget to make sensible decisions about the future will likely impact our mental health.

And in the workplace there is a lot of emphasis on getting to work on time, showing up to meetings, working to deadlines and following processes. For people who struggle with numbers, it’s not easy or simple.

There is currently not enough support for people who struggle with numbers at work

#Measuring how people feel about numbers

Use Professor Tim Hunt’s maths anxiety scale to determine how people feel about numbers when researching.

Always use ethical questions. Never ask leading questions. Follow the Department for Education’s research ethics.