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I am teaching mathematics for elementary school (even playgroup) to university students. Most of my students think of mathematics might not be necessary for them.

I have an hypothesis that learning mathematics build our characters to be stronger in daily life problems. Shortly speaking,

Is there an evidence that learning mathematics influences our characters?

I want to use this evidence to convince them.

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    $\begingroup$ I am really perplexed by the attitude that elementary-school mathematics is useless. Not even the worst math haters I know would even remotely make such statements. $\endgroup$ – Wrzlprmft Mar 16 '14 at 18:55
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    $\begingroup$ Well, correlation-causation aside. Go look at the divorce statistics by profession. It's a virtual certainty for artists and a virtual impossibility for nuclear physicists (2%). Moreover, the figure decreases as the mathiness of the job increases. $\endgroup$ – Hal Apr 16 '14 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure this counts as evidence, but, it is a nice argument uwo.ca/chaplain/crc/articles/right_use.pdf $\endgroup$ – James S. Cook Jul 22 '14 at 14:12
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Such an implication as you suggest seems highly far fetched. Firstly, there is a chicken and egg problem here. Suppose that research showed those who study mathematics end up far more likely to have strong characters and be expert at day-to-day problems. How would you tell, without advanced brain imagery techniques, that it is not the predisposition to strong characters and being good at solving problems that is the reason why they did well?

I can't even begin to imagine what would be required of a study that will actually properly test for the relation you wish to find.

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  • $\begingroup$ By way of analogy, it might well be possible to discover a causal influence between, say, early chess learning and adults who have internalized A) that careful consideration of difficult situations can lead to better decisions, and B) that decision making skills can be trained. Are A and B 'character' traits? Maybe. Could there be similar effects from the study mathematics? Maybe. The most direct way that I feel my own moderate level of mathematical maturity affects my character is that it leaves me better able to detect which of my beliefs are assumptions, and which are evidence based. $\endgroup$ – NiloCK Jul 22 '14 at 12:10
  • $\begingroup$ As for your second paragraph, I'd bet that there exists a large number of studies that attempt correlate (for example) early music education with the adult character trait of engaging in deliberate, effective practice routines when attempting to learn a new skill. $\endgroup$ – NiloCK Jul 22 '14 at 12:12
  • $\begingroup$ if you can show me such (reliable, please) research, please do so, I'm interested to see it. Of course, this still leaves open the correlation vs. causation issue.... $\endgroup$ – Ittay Weiss Jul 22 '14 at 12:16
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I agree with the premise, but as Ittay's answer suggests, a study sufficient to prove this would be difficult. The issue of correlation vs causation comes into play with the task of separating them to be difficult.

In the end, it's fair to say that young children learn more easily. Things like language that are far more difficult to learn say, in high school, can be picked up by a young child. I think that observation has been accepted as true. For that reason, the focus on math learning at the early ages can help set them on a more successful path.

(to repeat, I agree with the premise. It's not 'far fetched' in my opinion, only difficult to prove)

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  • $\begingroup$ The premise that children learn languages more easily than adults do is dubious (while accepted). One should properly compare the time spent learning the language. A child has no job, no obligations, nothing except the need to play. A child thus spends literally all day learning the language. And still, it takes a child about 5 years to reach a good command of a language. I'm sure that an adults who already speaks one language, if totally allowed to just play all day in an environment completely soaked in the language will pick it up in less than 5 years. $\endgroup$ – Ittay Weiss Mar 16 '14 at 20:36
  • $\begingroup$ My anecdotal evidence is with a 3 yr old with a part time nanny, but I understand the idea is also far-fetched. No problem. $\endgroup$ – JoeTaxpayer Mar 16 '14 at 22:36
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This is answer is self evaluation of what I think happened to me.

I don't know about building characters to be 'stronger'. (What does 'stronger' or 'better' even mean here? What is the partial order?). But I do think it influences character.

I recently graduated from my BSc in mathematics and I can guarantee that I'm much more honest now that I graduated than what I was before I got into mathematics. I think it was because I studied mathematics. I sort of got obsessed with the truth, something that its in the core of mathematics, and telling a lie, even if it is the polite or politically correct thing to do, makes me cringe inside. I have become brutally honest.

How exactly is this a consequence of studying mathematics, I can't really explain, but as I said before, the 'search for truth' is something that pervades through all of mathematics and not in other sciences. 'Facts' change all the time in other sciences, but not in mathematics.

Added much later: In this documentary about Perelman (see how the english subtitles came to be here), at 31:47 it can be read

Perelman's "teachers insisted that mathematics is not only the Queen of Sciences, but also the most moral science."

The next few moments after the given time mark are also relevant.

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