Math Helps Build Impulse Control in Teens

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Thanks to Annie Spratt @anniespratt for making this photo available freely on Unsplash 

If there is one subject that everyone needs to study in their teen years, it is mathematics. Math builds confidence and helps with cognitive development to hone a logical, thinking mind, thus aiding with impulse control. When a teen has impulse control, they generally display good behavior (at least out in public). Having impulse control means they can control their emotions, reactions, and their actions.

Below Are Some Examples of Impulsive Behaviors:

  1. Hitting someone or throwing objects when angry;
  2. Jumping off a dangerously high surface (or other similar risky behaviors);
  3. Throwing papers in class;
  4. Running around in public spaces;
  5. Dashing onto the street without looking;
  6. Grabbing materials off the shelf in a store;
  7. Interrupting/Disrupting others while they are talking or working;
  8. Making hurtful comments before thinking about the ramifications;
  9. Stealing

Impulse control isn’t an innate skill. In other words, kids aren’t born with impulse control – they have to learn it! Now, one study has shown that studying math develops impulse control through a neurotransmitter called gamma-Aminobutyric acid, or GABA. This suggests it might also affect brain chemistry, and the way that students learn.

In the teen years, GABA helps inhibit brain activity that interferes with learning and self-control.

Using a scan called H-magnetic resonance spectroscopy, teens found to have lower levels of GABA also tested for lower levels of impulse control. In addition, they performed more poorly on tests of cognitive function.

The study discovered that it was the studying of mathematics that elevated a teen’s GABA levels. At the same time, teens who chose to stop learning math were found to have lower GABA levels.

While this study should be replicated to reinforce its findings, the message is clear:

Researchers think they’ve uncovered important evidence about brain development with this study. A young person’s decision to stop learning mathematics appears to alter the production of GABA. The researchers suspect it might also affect the formation of certain types of neurons, and, possibly, lead to changes in neural anatomy. So keep on studying math. It fine tunes your logical brain and boosts your confidence, as well as supports you immensely in your daily life.

Now, add in the ability to control your impulses better, which for many, is the make or break between the kind of life you want and the kind of life you end up having.

For more on this study, visit

– Christina Sng for Maths@Singapore

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