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Baron-Cohen has conducted extensive studies [1,2] examining the prevalence of autism spectrum conditions (ASCs) and mathematical or scientific ability. Most of these studies, however, have focused mostly on (Cambridge) undergraduates or winners of the UK Mathematics Olympiad.

In one study, Baron-Cohen found in [2] that Olympiad winners scored the highest in the AQ test ($\mathrm{AQ}\colon 24.5,\mathrm{ SD}\colon 5.7$), with the second highest scoring group being the mathematics students ($\mathrm{AQ}\colon 21.5,\mathrm{ SD}\colon 6.4$).$^1$ This leads one to conjecture that autistic traits may be more prominent among individuals with higher mathematical ability.

Question: What is the population evidence$^2$ around autism/autistic traits in mathematics? If possible, at the postgraduate level in professional mathematicians?


Disclaimer: There is a another question focused on the postgraduate maths skill set: Is there any evidence for the distinction between undergrad and postgrad mathematics?.

$^1$Note however that the sample is small: $n=16$ for UK Olympiad winners, $n=85$ for mathematics students.

$^2$As in measuring the average AQ of mathematicians against other groups, such as graduate students, undergraduates, and controls.

References

[1] Baron-Cohen, Simon, Sally Wheelwright, Amy Burtenshaw, and Esther Hobson. "Mathematical talent is linked to autism." Human nature 18, no. 2 (2007): 125-131.

[2] Baron-Cohen, Simon, Sally Wheelwright, Richard Skinner, Joanne Martin, and Emma Clubley. "The autism-spectrum quotient (AQ): Evidence from Asperger syndrome/high-functioning autism, males and females, scientists and mathematicians." Journal of autism and developmental disorders 31, no. 1 (2001): 5-17.

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  • $\begingroup$ Hi Tim, thanks for an interesting question. However I was wondering whether you could split both questions please? The answer for question two is quite a broad conceptualisation question. $\endgroup$ – Poidah Aug 23 at 6:04
  • $\begingroup$ This article would be relevant in answering your question 2 - nature.com/articles/s41598-018-30013-8#ref-CR3 $\endgroup$ – Poidah Aug 23 at 6:33
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    $\begingroup$ Hi @Poidah, many thanks for the suggestion and for your answer! Here's a link to the second question. $\endgroup$ – Tim Wright Aug 23 at 21:31
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    $\begingroup$ @Poidah Thanks also for the pointer towards that article. One potential problem however is that it focuses on arithmetic problems only (see the second question for more details regarding this point). $\endgroup$ – Tim Wright Aug 23 at 21:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Poidah Lastly, thanks for your answer. I'm also very impressed with Ruzich et al.'s study! $\endgroup$ – Tim Wright Aug 23 at 21:34
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No. I can't seem to find a specific study into professional mathematicians or graduate students so far, the studies always seem to group the occupations together.

However, Baron-Cohen's team has done an impressive national survey (Ruzich et al., 2015) and recruited nearly half a million people through a UK TV show. They managed to get over 450,394 survey respondents which allowed them to analyse occupations. They found that people working in STEM scored higher in an autism screening questionnaire or AQ (Autism-Spectrum Quotient) test.

individuals working in a STEM career (m = 21.92, SD = 8.92) scored higher than individuals non-STEM careers (m = 18.92, SD = 8.48)

Unfortunately, there wasn't a specific category for mathematicians as probably it is too specific and too small a field to analyse. The three categories (figure 3) forming STEM was Comp & IT, Engineering and Sci & Tech. Mathematicians would fit into one of those occupational roles.

References

Ruzich, E., Allison, C., Chakrabarti, B., Smith, P., Musto, H., Ring, H., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2015). Sex and STEM Occupation Predict Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ) Scores in Half a Million People. PLOS ONE, 10(10), e0141229.

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