Maths lessons make pupils feel isolated, the study suggests, as there is little opportunity to work with classmates.
The findings will worry government advisers already struggling to bring down high failure rates in maths AS-level and the numbers dropping the subject.
The report, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, said many pupils resented the rote-learning involved in maths.
Study director Dr Elana Nardi said: "Grey, depressing, boring, were words often used to describe lessons." Seventy 13 and 14-year-olds in three Norfolk schools were observed and interviewed over a year.
Separate research commissioned by communications company Intel shows that, while two in five youngsters aspire to a career in science and engineering, almost a third say poor education holds them back.