Mathematical Talent is Linked to Autism

Abstract

A total of 378 mathematics undergraduates (selected for being strong at “systemizing”) and 414 students in other (control) disciplines at Cambridge University were surveyed with two questions: (1) Do you have a diagnosed autism spectrum condition? (2) How many relatives in your immediate family have a diagnosed autism spectrum condition? Results showed seven cases of autism in the math group (or 1.85%) vs one case of autism in the control group (or 0.24%), a ninefold difference that is significant. Controlling for sex and general population sampling, this represents a three- to sevenfold increase for autism spectrum conditions among the mathematicians. There were 7 of 1,405 (or 0.5%) cases of autism in the immediate families of the math group vs 2 of 1,669 (or 0.1%) cases in the immediate families of the control group, which again is a significant difference. These results confirm a link between autism and systemizing, and they suggest this link is genetic given the association between autism and first-degree relatives of mathematicians.

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Acknowledgement

SBC and SW were supported by the Nancy Lurie-Marks Family Foundation and the MRC UK during the period of this work. This work was submitted in part fulfillment of the B.Sc. in Experimental Psychology, Cambridge University, by AB and EH. We are grateful to Imre Leader for discussions.

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Correspondence to Simon Baron-Cohen.

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Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., Burtenshaw, A. et al. Mathematical Talent is Linked to Autism. Hum Nat 18, 125–131 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-007-9014-0

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Keywords

  • Autism
  • Broader autism phenotype
  • Genetic risk
  • Mathematical talent
  • Systemizing