Breathing and math performance: Implications for performance and neurotherapy

  • Erik Peper Institute for Holistic Health Studies, Department of Health Education, San Francisco State University
  • Shannon Samantha Lee San Francisco State University
  • Richard Harvey San Francisco State University
  • I-Mei Lin Department of Psychology, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Kaohsiung Medical University
Keywords: math performance, anxiety, breathing, gasping, learning


This report of findings describes students’ self-reported difficulty and anxiety during test taking and the effect of deliberate gasping or diaphragmatic breathing on the ability to solve math problems.  During the evaluation of an experiential classroom activity, 103 university students filled out a short questionnaire about performance anxiety and blanking out when taking exams.  Then, they were asked to solve math problems while either gasping or slow diaphragmatic breathing.  Students reported a high frequency of blanking out (mean = 5.3), difficulty during exams (mean = 6.7), and difficulty with math (mean = 6.2) on a scale from 1 (never) to 10 (always).  The students reported significantly more difficulty in solving math problems when gasping than during slow breathing (p < .01) and significantly more anxiety during gasping (p < .01) than during slow breathing (p < .01) when solving math problems.  Most students were completely surprised how their breathing patterns affected their ability to perform a simple math test.  Numerous students have reported that when they implemented this slow breathing approach at the moment they felt anxiety, their anxiety slightly decreased and they would perform better on exams.  Included are comments to improve study habits, memory consolidation, and how to incorporate somatic feedback of breathing patterns into learning and training within other settings such as during neurotherapy.

Author Biographies

Erik Peper, Institute for Holistic Health Studies, Department of Health Education, San Francisco State University
Professor, Institute for Holistic Health Studies, Department of Health Education
Shannon Samantha Lee, San Francisco State University
Student at San Francisco State University
Richard Harvey, San Francisco State University
Associate Professor  Department of Health Education
I-Mei Lin, Department of Psychology, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Kaohsiung Medical University


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