What is it about?

People with superior mathematical abilities turn out to have an autism spectrum disorder more often than others do. The empathising-systemising theory proposes that this link is mediated by these individuals’ stronger tendency to systemise (detect patterns, derive rules), along with the fact that mathematics is the perfect example of a rule-based, lawful system. This account, however, requires that individuals from the general population who are more inclined to systemise be better at maths than those who are less inclined to do so. Based on the scant available evidence, this has been argued not to be the case. The data presented here show, for the first time, that systemising tendencies do predict both self-assessed maths skills (201 participants) and mathematical intelligence (151 participants), before and after controlling for nonmathematical intelligence, sex, and occupation (social sciences vs biological/physical fields). These findings support the empathising-systemising theory and the “hyper-systemising” explanation of autism.

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Why is it important?

The existence of a relationship between systemising and mathematical intelligence has important consequences on theory. It has been argued that the association between autism spectrum disorders and better maths skills is driven by a stronger tendency to systemise. This idea, however, requires that ordinary people who tend to systemise more are better at maths. The data I present show, for the first time, that this is indeed the case.

Perspectives

These findings suggest that we may be able to help children learn—and perhaps even like—mathematics if we encourage, through games and specific activities, the development of their pleasure to systemise.

Dr Paola Bressan
Universita degli Studi di Padova

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This page is a summary of: Systemisers are better at maths, Scientific Reports, August 2018, Springer Science + Business Media, DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-30013-8.
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