Directors: Antonio M. Battro and Kurt W. Fischer
Program officer: María Lourdes Majdalani
Genetics and neuroscience of mathematical ability and disability in the early school years
Little is known about the origins of mathematics ability and disability. One of the reasons why research in this area has progressed slowly is the complexity of the development of mathematical cognition. Understanding the genetic, environmental, and brain mechanisms that underlie individual differences in mathematical cognition has important implications for mathematics education and prevention of learning disabilities in mathematics. I will present the latest findings from our research that aims to provide a systematic longitudinal behavioral genetic investigation of individual differences in different aspects of mathematical ability and the links between mathematics, reading, and other cognitive abilities. Participants are part of the TEDS sample (Twins’ Early Development Study), which involves a representative sample of all twins born in England and Wales in 1994, 1995, and 1996 whose language and cognitive development are assessed longitudinally.
I will present the first multivariate genetic analysis of the data addressing heterogeneity within the mathematical domain using data collected from 10-year-old twins with a battery of web-based tests. I will also describe the results from another set of multivariate analyses concerning the aetiology of overlap and specificity between mathematics, reading and general cognitive ability in 7 year-old twins. In addition, I will present some preliminary findings from a neuroimaging study which is currently underway using a subsample of TEDS twins. This study aims to investigate processes underlying numerical cognition in 10-year-old children of low and high mathematical ability. This research will provide information about brain structure and function as they relate to different aspects of mathematics performance in the low and high groups, and to other measures that have already been obtained as part of previous studies within TEDS (e.g., language, reading, general cognitive ability).
Finally, I will outline the next steps in our programme of research on mathematical ability and disability which aim to combine molecular genetic and neuroimaging techniques to investigate mechanisms underlying the development of individual differences in mathematical ability. A molecular genetic study designed to find specific genes associated with mathematical ability is planned as part of TEDS – it will use pooled DNA to study very large samples and microarrays to study very large numbers of DNA markers. We will then use these findings to conduct the first large-scale neuroimaging study of mathematical ability and disability based on genotypic selection.
The goal of this programme of research is to lead to better understanding of the origins of individual differences in mathematical ability, to the development of better theories in the area of mathematical cognition, and ultimately to better strategies for teaching mathematics, diagnosing mathematical disability and early interventions.