Imgorthand/Getty By Anil Ananthaswamy Many people take a dislike to mathematics from their schooldays onwards, but why is a horror of arithmetic, algebra and geometry so widespread – and can animals really do maths? Here we answer four curious questions about calculations. Distaste, or even fear, of mathematics is surprisingly commonplace. In his book One, Two, Three, mathematician David Berlinski says this can be attributed to the central role played by arcane symbols, which demand great attention and provide no obvious pay-off. If you’ve ever asked yourself: “How is learning algebra going to help me in real life?”, then you know the feeling. “In mathematics, something must be invested before anything is gained,” writes Berlinski, “and what is gained is never quite so palpable as what has been invested.” Maths anxiety, a tendency to panic when asked to perform mathematical tasks, is a very real thing. But it’s an incredibly complex topic to study, says developmental psychologist Daniel Ansari at the University of Western Ontario, Canada. When a child displays it in school, for example, it’s unclear whether the anxiety stems from an aversion to mathematical symbols, an inability to use language to talk about mathematics or from social causes such as an overbearing parent. There are all sorts of reasons people might find maths difficult: