Math anxiety may be linked to lower understanding of GMOs

03/20/2014 09:48:00 AM
Vicky Boyd

mathematicsCourtesy Coffeyville Community CollegemathematicsPenn State University researchers say they may have found a link between math comprehension and people's ability to understand messages about genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

People who feel intimidated by math may be less able to understand messages about GMOs and other health-related information, according to a news release.

"Math anxiety, which happens when people are worried or are concerned about using math or statistics, leads to less effort and decreases the ability to do math," Roxanne Parrott, a professor of communication arts and sciences and health policy and administration, said in the release."Math anxiety also has been found to impair working memory."

That anxiety led to a decrease in comprehension when people read statistics about GMOs.

But those who had increased skills in math and a confidence in those skills had better comprehension.

They base their theory on a study conducted with 323 university students.

Participants were randomly assigned a message that was altered to contain one of three different ways of presenting statistics: a text with percentages, a bar graph, and both text and graphs.

The statistics were related to three different messages on GMOs, including results of an animal study, a Brazil nut study and a food recall announcement.

Researchers measured participants' math skills, confidence and anxiety before and after reading the message. Afterward, they also measured comprehension and how important participants perceived the message to be.

When exposed to a message about GMOs, even people with high levels of math skills and math-solving skills exhibited increased anxiety.

"Perhaps this is due to performance anxiety," Parrott said in the release. "It's a sense of 'I know I can do it and I have the skills to do it, but it is making me anxious to apply my skills.'"

Participants also said they believed that statistics presented in messages were more important than those presented in bar graphs. So text messages may be more persuasive than graphics.

The researchers reported their findings in the online issue of Journal of Health Communication.

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Mischa Popoff    
Greenville TX  |  March, 21, 2014 at 05:02 PM

It's not just math. People who feel intimidated by anything new are predisposed to being opposed to GMOs. They're the same people who warned over a 100 years ago that electricity would kill us all, and the same people who warned that nitrogen procured in limitless supply from the earth's atmosphere would lead to starvation and that old-fashion composting had to be relied upon instead. It's paranoia plain and simple, part and parcel of the certified-organic mindset.

Dr. JRF    
Marietta  |  June, 24, 2014 at 10:02 PM

Mischa, while I agree with you 100%, the general populace is ignorant of the fact that transgenics has been occurring since the creation of life on this planet. People in the scientific community who study transgenics know that bacteria and fungi transfer genes essentially willy-nilly from one organism to another all the time, the result being uncontrolled chemical (metabolomic) changes in the transformed organism. The general population is ignorant of the fact that billions, trillions, quadrillions of bacteria and viruses are doing these transgenics every day, all around us, all of which is completely natural, and none of which is controlled by humans to the slightest degree. Possibly more commonly understood by the general populace is that plants and animals transfer genes every time reproductive cells are exchanged from one organism to another, i.e. "conventional breeding". What's not understood by the general population is that even conventional breeding causes hundreds/thousands/millions of metabolomic changes in the progeny, very little of which is controlled or predictable by the geneticists doing the hybridizations. People who do not understand these facts hold some sort of ill conceived impression that somehow if it's done by "nature" then it's OK, but if it's done by man (humans) then it's not OK. It's essentially a modern day religion. I think the only way we can round this bend and distill the relevant scientific concepts to the point that they can be understood by the general population is to illustrate (and prove) that human mediated transgenics can actually lead to a safer food supply, such as by reducing the levels of natural toxins and contaminating substances that would otherwise be present.

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