Math + good posture = better scores

August 3, 2018 by Lisa Owens Viani  , San Francisco State University
Associate Professor of Health Education Richard Harvey leads SF State students in a math and posture experiment, Credit: San Francisco State University

If you've ever felt like a deer in the headlights before taking a math test or speaking before a large group of people, you could benefit from a simple change in posture. As part of a new study by researchers at San Francisco State University, 125 college students were tested to see how well they could perform simple math—subtracting 7 from 843 sequentially for 15 seconds—while either slumped over or sitting up straight with shoulders back and relaxed. Fifty-six percent of the students reported finding it easier to perform the math in the upright position.

"For people who are anxious about math, posture makes a giant difference," said Professor of Health Education Erik Peper. "The slumped-over position shuts them down and their brains do not work as well. They cannot think as clearly." Before the study began, students filled out an anonymous questionnaire asking them to rate their anxiety levels while taking exams and performing math; they also described any physical symptoms of stress they experienced during test taking.

According to co-author Associate Professor of Health Education Richard Harvey, slumping over is a defensive posture that can trigger old negative memories in the body and brain. While the students without math anxiety did not report as great a benefit from better posture, they did find that doing math while slumped over was somewhat more difficult.

Peper and Harvey say these findings about body position can help people prepare for many different types of performance under stress, not just math tests. Athletes, musicians and public speakers can all benefit from better posture prior to and during their performance. "You have a choice," said Peper. "It's about using an empowered position to optimize your focus."

That empowerment could be particularly helpful to students facing the challenge called "stereotype threat," said Lauren Mason, one of the paper's authors and a recent SF State graduate. A first-generation college , Mason can identify with such students, who experience fear and insecurity because of a belief by others—which can become internalized—that they won't do as well at math. Mason said she has benefitted personally from using a more empowered posture before taking difficult tests, including math. She believes that adopting a more confident could help other first-generation students as well as women entering science and math, who often battle , too.

"I always felt insecure about my math abilities even though I excelled at other subjects," said Mason, who helped design the experiment in the study. "You build a relationship with [] so early—as early as elementary school. You can carry that negative self-talk throughout your life, impacting your perception of yourself."

Mason said the study results demonstrate a simple way to improve many aspects of life, especially when stress is involved: "The way we carry ourselves and interact in space influences not only how others perceive us but also how we perceive ourselves."

Explore further: Math anxiety doesn't equal poor math performance

More information: Erik Peper et al, Do Better in Math: How Your Body Posture May Change Stereotype Threat Response, NeuroRegulation (2018). DOI: 10.15540/nr.5.2.67

Related Stories

Math anxiety doesn't equal poor math performance

November 4, 2015
Experiencing math anxiety—nervousness and discomfort in relation to math—impairs math performance for some students, but new research shows that it's linked with improved performance for others, at least to a degree. ...

Small group math instruction benefits young children

June 12, 2018
Teaching math to small groups of low-income, minority kindergartners has a positive impact on their learning and can help bridge the divide with higher-income peers, say University of Michigan researchers.

Changing students' attitudes to mathematics improves test scores

May 10, 2018
A free 'massive, open, online course' (MOOC) designed to change students' attitudes towards mathematics makes them more engaged in class—leading to significantly higher test scores. Published in open-access journal Frontiers ...

Anxiety affects test scores even among students who excel at math

March 13, 2017
The term math anxiety doesn't call to mind a person who excels at the subject. But students who perform extremely well on math exams can suffer from such anxiety, which has a surprisingly powerful effect on just how well ...

Betsy DeVos laments lack of progress seen in US students (Update)

April 10, 2018
The results of the latest Nation's Report Card are in and the news isn't good.

France wants to fix 'catastrophic' math scores, conquer fear

February 12, 2018
France's government is worried about how many of its schoolchildren consider themselves "stupid at math."

Recommended for you

FDA approves brain stimulation device for OCD

August 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—A brain stimulation device to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has received approval for marketing Friday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Research eyes role of stress in mental illnesses

August 17, 2018
We all face stress in our lives. Even researchers seeking to understand why some people shrug it off while others face battles against disorders like depression or PTSD.

16 going on 66: Will you be the same person 50 years from now?

August 17, 2018
How much do you change between high school and retirement? The answer depends on whether you're comparing yourself to others or to your younger self.

Men and women show surprising differences in seeing motion

August 16, 2018
Researchers reporting in the journal Current Biology on August 16 have found an unexpected difference between men and women. On average, their studies show, men pick up on visual motion significantly faster than women do.

It's okay when you're not okay: Study re-evaluates resilience in adults

August 16, 2018
Adversity is part of life: Loved ones die. Soldiers deploy to war. Patients receive terminal diagnoses.

Expecting to learn: Language acquisition in toddlers improved by predictable situations

August 16, 2018
The first few years of a child's life are crucial for learning language, and though scientists know the "when," the "how" is still up for debate. The sheer number of words a child hears is important; that number predicts ...

3 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Anonym518498
1 / 5 (1) Aug 04, 2018
Did my taxpayer money go for this garbage?
mtnphot
1 / 5 (1) Aug 05, 2018
I asked two persons with theoretical physics Phd's what their opinion of this story was. They call bullshit. Thinking involves much more than sitting up straight and subtracting 7 from 843 until your mind goes numb.
mtnphot
1 / 5 (1) Aug 05, 2018
Subtracting 7 from 843 isn't mathematics. Its arithmetic. But an Education professor may not be aware of the difference.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.