What Is Arithmophobia?

  • Heather Hyde BSc Biomedical Science, University of Birmingham


Arithmophobia is the irrational fear of numbers and is also known as numerophobia or simply as number phobia. More specifically, it may be known as a mathematics phobia since the fear of numbers can be observed most commonly in an educational setting. Arithmophobia can be the fear of numbers as a whole, in the case of mathematics phobia, or specific numbers associated with superstitions, like the number 13. People suffering from arithmophobia can experience distress and fear upon encountering numbers in academic settings, or daily life. Read on to find out more about this phobia and how it is treated. 

Definition of Arithmophobia

Arithmophobia isn’t recognised officially as a phobia, however since it is an irrational fear with a specific association, it is considered a phobia. According to the International Classification of Diseases, a specific phobia refers to an intense and irrational fear of an object, activity, or situation. The object, situation, or activity that the person fears is known as the phobic stimulus, which causes a fear response. It is a type of anxiety disorder. A person suffering from a specific phobia might:

  • Have an intense, unrealistic, and persistent fear of an object or situation
  • Seek to avoid the object or situation
  • Recognise the fear as excessive and unreasonable, in the case of adults

Arithmophobia can also be of two types: 

  • Generalised Arithmophobia: fear of numbers as a whole, related to arithmetic, calculation, and mathematical functions
  • Specific Arithmophobia: fear of specific numbers, associated with cultural beliefs or personal experiences. For example, many East Asian cultures consider 4 to be an unlucky number as the word used for it is a homophone of the word for death 

The Significance of Understanding Arithmophobia 

Arithmophobia affects people at different stages in their lives and in different professions, fields of education, and daily functioning. For example: 

  • Students in school who are unable to progress in their mathematics classes because of their fear of numbers, thus impacting their long-term academic and professional careers
  • Professionals in areas of work that require numerical knowledge to work with different types of data. These can include lawyers, psychologists, advertisers, designers, etc 
  • Professionals involved in fields of data accounting, finance, analysis, etc. who need to work with numbers
  • People in daily life need to work with numbers, not only because they are used often for categorising things, but also to make payments for groceries, rent, small transactions, take the bus or taxi, post letters etc 

The knowledge of numbers and the ability to use them comfortably is a requirement in most spheres of life, and the functioning of people with arithmophobia can be greatly hindered by their fears since numbers are everywhere. We need to recognise the signs and symptoms of arithmophobia, and seek diagnoses and treatment to manage or overcome these fears effectively.  

Symptoms of Arithmophobia 

Arithmophobia, like most specific phobias, can have a variety of symptoms. Mostly, these can be categorised into three types of symptoms, which can vary in duration and intensity. 

Physiological symptoms 

These symptoms are related to the changes that occur in the body when a person with arithmophobia encounters numbers. 

Increased Heart RateIncreased heart rate caused by stress and anxiety.
Shortness of BreathA feeling of breathlessness in maths-related situations.
SweatingProfuse sweating, especially on the palms.
Trembling or ShakingShaking or trembling, often in the hands or limbs.
Nausea or Upset StomachGastrointestinal distress leading to nausea, indigestion, or discomfort.
Muscle TensionIncreased muscle tension, often in the neck, shoulders, or back.
HeadachesTension headaches or migraines in response to stress.
DizzinessLightheadedness or dizziness due to the stress response.
Increased Blood PressureTemporary rise in blood pressure due to anxiety and fear.

Emotional Symptoms: 

These are the symptoms related to the feelings and thoughts that a person with arithmophobia experiences when they encounter the phobic stimulus. 

AnxietyExcessive worry and fear of maths.
FearStrong, irrational fear of numbers and maths.
Panic AttacksSudden, intense episodes of distress.
NervousnessGeneral unease when faced with maths tasks.
Avoidance BehaviourGoing to great lengths to avoid maths-related situations.
Low Self-EsteemFeelings of inadequacy related to maths.
Frustration and AngerEmotional reactions to maths challenges.
Shame and EmbarrassmentFeelings of shame and embarrassment in maths-related situations.
DepressionProlonged arithmophobia can contribute to depressive symptoms.

Behavioural symptoms

These are the symptoms related to how a person with arithmophobia might act or behave when they face the phobic stimulus. Behavioural symptoms are mostly avoidance or extreme fear while facing the stimulus, in this case, numbers.

AvoidanceGoing to great lengths to avoid maths-related situations.
ProcrastinationDelaying or postponing maths-related tasks.
Physical AvoidanceAvoiding places or situations involving numbers. Avoidance results in less competence and exposure, increasing anxiety and sense of unpreparedness when they encounter numerical stimuli. 
Dependency on OthersRelying on others for mathematical help.
Stress-Related HabitsEngaging in stress-related habits when facing maths challenges.
UnderachievementFailing to perform to full potential due to maths fear.
IsolationWithdrawing from social or professional activities involving numbers.
Negative Self-TalkEngaging in self-criticism related to mathematical abilities.

Causes of Arithmophobia

Psychological models explain arithmophobia as caused by repeated associations between a stimulus (numbers) and anxiety or fear. These associations can make a person susceptible to a chronic emotional association between mathematics and anxiety.1

Classical conditioning

Repeated associations between a neutral stimulus (like numbers) and a fearful situation or stressful emotion can cause arithmophobia. For example, consider if your mathematics teacher in kindergarten was strict and you were afraid to attend her classes. You might unconsciously associate your fear of your teacher with the fear of mathematics, and develop a phobia. 


Phobias can be learnt by observing people. In this case, through modelling or observational learning, a person might observe someone else’s fear response to a stimulus and internalise it. For example, if you witnessed your older sibling doing badly at maths and feeling anxious about their tests, you might end up fearing the subject too. 

Operant Conditioning

Reinforcement, which can be a positive or negative consequence of an action, determines whether or not a person repeats it. In the case of a specific phobia, negative reinforcement is the experience of fear or anxiety while positive reinforcement is something that reduces it. For example, if you tried your best ona maths test and didn’t do well, it might negatively reinforce your desire to avoid the subject. On the other hand, if skipping your maths class reduces your anxiety, it positively reinforces you to avoid the phobic stimulus. 

Several different factors can contribute to the development of arithmophobia. The family and learning environments can play a major role in how a person perceives mathematics and numbers. Here are some of the contributing factors: 

  • Traumatic Experiences: Negative or traumatic experiences related to maths can contribute to arithmophobia. For example, being publicly humiliated by a teacher or peers, struggling with maths exams, or facing academic pressure can lead to a fear of numbers.
  • Negative Associations: Developing negative associations with maths, due to consistent experiences of failure or frustration in mathematical tasks, can trigger an intense fear of numbers and arithmetic. 
  • Learning Disabilities: Underlying learning disabilities such as dyscalculia can make grasping mathematical concepts and performing calculations more difficult for a student. Especially if teachers and schools do not cater to the needs of the student, they might develop fears of and an avoidance of maths and numerals.
  • Generalised Anxiety: Some individuals may have a predisposition to anxiety disorders, which extend to maths-related situations, resulting in arithmophobia.
  • Parental Influence: The attitudes and behaviours of parents or caregivers toward maths can impact a child's perception of numbers. If parents express fear or frustration with maths, children may internalise these negative feelings. Moreover, if parents are harsh and react critically to their child not understanding concepts, it might trigger arithmophobia. 
  • Peer Pressure: Negative experiences with peers who ridicule or stigmatise mathematical difficulties can contribute to arithmophobia.
  • Educational Experiences: Educational experiences can significantly influence a student’s attitude toward maths. Inadequate teaching materials, large classes, poorly motivated teachers, lack of facilities for hands-on learning, and a lack of overall assessment systems can trigger arithmophobia.2
  • Genetic Factors: While not a direct cause, there may be genetic factors that influence a person's propensity to develop anxiety disorders, including arithmophobia.

Impact of Arithmophobia

Mathematical knowledge and the use of numbers are  essential skills in the world we live in today. Numbers are the primary form of organisation, at train stations, grocery stores, banks, telephone booths, etc. Persistent anxieties and fears related to using numbers and mathematics can impact a person’s daily life in many different ways. 

  • Academic Performance:
    • Lower Grades: Arithmophobia can make a student avoid their maths classes, tests, and coursework due to anxiety associated with it. As a result, with poor academic performance in the subject, their negative associations and fears increase. 
    • Missed Educational Opportunities: Fear of numbers can prevent students from pursuing higher-level maths courses or careers that require a strong mathematical foundation, limiting their educational and career opportunities. 
    • Negative Self-Esteem: An inability to grasp concepts or perform well in mathematics, a core subject in the curriculum of most countries, can impact how a person views themselves. They might feel inadequate, question their self-worth, and have lower self-esteem.
  • Career Opportunities:
    • Limited Career Choices: Many careers and job positions require at least basic mathematical skills. Many students might hold themselves back from pursuing the careers of their choice because of their need to avoid maths and calculation.
    • Reduced Job Performance: In professions where maths skills are necessary, such as finance, engineering, or data analysis, arithmophobia can lead to subpar job performance and hinder career advancement.
  • Daily-Life Decision Making:
    • Financial Decision Making: Arithmophobia can impair an individual's ability to make sound financial decisions, leading to problems managing budgets, investments, and everyday financial matters.
    • Problem Solving: Everyday problem-solving tasks that involve numbers, such as calculating tips, budgeting, or measuring ingredients for recipes, can become challenging or avoided altogether.
    • Impact on Personal Life: Avoidance of maths-related situations can affect personal life, leading to difficulties in tasks like understanding bills, managing expenses, or helping children with homework. 

If not addressed, mathematics anxiety or arithmophobia can be passed on from one generation to another through negative attitudes. A 2017 survey in the UK of parents of children between the ages of 6 and 16 revealed that 20% of parents completely avoid mathematics homework through fear, while 29% struggled to help with mathematics homework for children aged six to nine.3 A need to control negative, fearful, or avoidant responses to mathematics is essential to nurture the next generation of competent maths learners. 

Coping Strategies 

Arithmophobia can be managed in many different ways. These may be through specific therapeutic approaches that deal with the causes, improving support systems for people suffering from it, and creating education and awareness. 

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a therapeutic approach that aims to manage issues by changing the way you act and behave. It focuses on both the negative thoughts, fears, and anxiety a person associates with numbers and the way a person behaves to avoid that fear. In the case of arithmophobia, Rational Emotional Therapy (RET) and Behavioural Modification Therapy (BMT) can be used.2

  • Rational Emotional Therapy or Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy (REBT)4 was developed by Albert Ellis. According to it, negative beliefs about an event, situation, or object (like mathematics) influence the way you react to it emotionally and behaviourally. Your therapist in this case will address your beliefs about mathematics and help you change them to manage your emotions and behaviours. 
  • Behavioural Modification Therapy (BMT)5 was developed by B.F Skinner. In this therapeutic setting, your therapist might help you change specific behaviours associated with arithmophobia, without focusing too much on the thoughts or emotions influencing it. They might use techniques such as positive and negative reinforcement. 

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy is a technique that aims to create a safe environment in which you can be exposed to the things that you fear and avoid, in this case, numbers. The exposure to the phobic objects or situations in a controlled environment reduces fear and decreases avoidance. Exposure therapies of different types have been developed, including systematic desensitisation, which is used for more severe cases of phobias. 

Social Support

Since arithmophobia develops and is strengthened within the education system, social support is essential to combat it. Many different interventions can be introduced into schools to reduce the fear and anxiety associated with mathematics. Some of these are: 

  • Changes in teaching formats: Practical approaches to teaching mathematics, by giving greater importance to understanding the process rather than arriving at the solution, can be very helpful. Topics can be broken down into units in sequential order rather than larger chunks in the syllabus. 
  • Counsellors and Guides: Counselling and guidance wings in schools, as well as one-on-one sessions with teachers, can be set up to create positive attitudes towards mathematics. 

Education and Awareness

Creating awareness about arithmophobia is an important step in achieving social support and access to therapy that can help manage it. Factors that contribute to arithmophobia are both the generally negative attitudes about mathematics, and how they are passed down without being questioned. Education can make a difference in helping people understand that arithmophobia can affect both children and adults, enabling parents ‘to control negative emotional responses to maths stimuli’. Awareness can help people seek timely treatment and prevent arithmophobia from intensifying. 


Arithmophobia is the intense and irrational fear of numbers and mathematics. It is a phobia that can be generalised, related to numbers, calculations, and arithmetic, or specific to numbers considered unlucky in different cultures. It is caused primarily by negative experiences with education, negative social attitudes towards mathematics, and pressures from parents, teachers, or peers. It can be managed through therapy, seeking social support, and increasing awareness. Since arithmophobia can impact academics, professional life, and daily functioning, it is important to seek help and overcome the fear of numbers.


  1. Samra CK, Abdijadid S. Specific phobia. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 [cited 2023 Oct 21]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499923/
  2. Hafiz SF, Musa HA, Muriana KO, Joy IE. Causes Of Mathematics Phobia Among Secondary School Students: Implication For Counselling In Ijumu Local Government Area Of Kogi State, Nigeria. International Journal of Education and Research. 2022; 10(11). Available from: https://www.ijern.com/journal/2022/November-2022/07.pdf.
  3. Rogerson A, Morska J, editors. Theory and Practice: An Interface or A Great Divide? [Internet]. 1st Edition. WTM-Verlag Münster; 2019 [cited 2024 Mar 5]. Available from: https://www.wtm-verlag.de/rogerson-a-morska-j-hrsg-the-mathematics-education-of-the-future-project-proceedings-of-the-15th-international-conference/.
  4. Turner MJ. Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), Irrational and Rational Beliefs, and the Mental Health of Athletes. Front Psychol [Internet]. 2016 [cited 2023 Oct 21]; 7:1423. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5028385/.
  5. Scott HK, Jain A, Cogburn M. Behavior Modification. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 [cited 2023 Oct 21]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459285/.
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

Get our health newsletter

Get daily health and wellness advice from our medical team.
Your privacy is important to us. Any information you provide to this website may be placed by us on our servers. If you do not agree do not provide the information.

Anandita Balsavar

Bachelor of Arts, St. Joseph’s University, India

Anandita is a final-year student of Psychology and English with an interest in writing. With experience in content writing and more creative ventures, such as podcasting, she is building her skills in different forms of writing. She wants to develop research-oriented skills in psychology. Presently, Anandita is working at Klarity, focusing on writing about psychological conditions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

my.klarity.health presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
Klarity is a citizen-centric health data management platform that enables citizens to securely access, control and share their own health data. Klarity Health Library aims to provide clear and evidence-based health and wellness related informative articles. 
Klarity / Managed Self Ltd
Alum House
5 Alum Chine Road
Westbourne Bournemouth BH4 8DT
VAT Number: 362 5758 74
Company Number: 10696687

Phone Number:

 +44 20 3239 9818