Genetics of Mathematical Aptitude


Normative variation in mathematical aptitude (MA) is relevant to many aspects of societal functioning, in particular for occupations in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Though elements of numerosity have been identified in some animals, complex MA is uniquely human. Several studies, using a variety of designs, have investigated the heritability of MA, and the extreme ends of the dimension of this trait – mathematics learning disability (MLD) and mathematical talent (MT). Initial estimates of the heritability of MA ranged from 0.2 to 0.9, while later studies identify more modest heritabilities for MA. Modest heritabilities have also been identified for MLD and MT. Despite this, genome‐wide association studies have had limited success. Additionally, MA may have similar genetic architectures to MLD and MT. Finally, while existing studies have tried to understand the genetic architecture of MA as a whole, different domains within MA may have different genetic architectures.

Key Concepts

  • Mathematical aptitude (MA) is important for STEM occupations.
  • Aspects of MA such as numerosity and conservation are seen in some animals and young infants.
  • Different researchers use different instruments to measure MA and to define mathematics learning disability (MLD) and mathematical talent (MT).
  • MA, MLD and MT are all moderately heritable and likely to be polygenic.
  • It is unclear if MA is genetically distinct from MLD and MT.
  • Sex‐differences in heritabilities of MA have not been identified.
  • Genome‐wide association studies of MA have yielded inconsistent results.

Keywords: mathematical aptitude; mathematical learning disability; mathematical talent; twin studies; heritability; sex difference; genome‐wide association studies


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Further Reading

Berch DB, Geary DC and Koepke KM (eds) (2015) Development of Mathematical Cognition: Neural Substrates and Genetic Influences. Cambridge: Academic Press.

Cadosh RC and Dowker A (eds) (2015) The Oxford Handbook of Numerical Cognition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Warrier, Varun, and Baron‐Cohen, Simon(Aug 2016) Genetics of Mathematical Aptitude. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0026848]