Baron-Cohen has conducted studies [1,2] investigating whether autism spectrum conditions (ASCs) are related to mathematical or scientific ability. These have, however, focused mostly on (Cambridge) undergraduates or winners of the UK Mathematics Olympiad.

Interestingly, 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.

While investigations on the relationship between autism and mathematical ability have been carried out [3,4], mostly of these focused on students at the undergraduate level or below. Furthermore, these studies may be focused on a completely different skill set than the one required for the practice of research mathematics.

Is there evidence for the distinction between undergraduate and postgraduate skills and studies especially from a biological or psychometric point of view?

Is the level of mathematics as done by undergraduates different from graduate students or professional mathematicians? There are very distinct skills required at various levels for example, a set of skills$^2$, such as good writing, abstract thinking, endurance$^3$, creativity, and problem solving for a research project. Is technical ability such as [4] "mathematical ability" through arithmetic problems, which focuses only on problem solving, a distinct set of skills that has been shown to be distinct in other studies?

Disclaimer: This question has been split from this one.

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

$^2$Of course, there are also skills which individuals with ASCs may have trouble with, such as socialisation (mathematics is often described as an activity with a large social component by its practitioners).

$^3$In the sense of obsessing, possibly for years, with a research problem to solve it.


[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.

[3] Chiang, Hsu-Min, and Yueh-Hsien Lin. "Mathematical ability of students with Asperger syndrome and high-functioning autism: A review of literature." Autism 11, no. 6 (2007): 547-556.

[4] Bressan, Paola. "Systemisers are better at maths." Scientific reports 8, no. 1 (2018): 11636.

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    $\begingroup$ Maybe the title should also mention autism so as to not be misleading? $\endgroup$
    – Tim Wright
    Commented Aug 24, 2019 at 1:38
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    $\begingroup$ There is another interesting discussion happening in Academia SE that you might be interested in - academia.stackexchange.com/questions/135086/… $\endgroup$
    – Poidah
    Commented Aug 24, 2019 at 2:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Poidah I think this distinction is clearer in mathematics and physics, because of the way they are structured (each subject completely on top of each other, making prerequisites completely inevitable, and most current research inaccessible for undergraduates) With the skill set required being so different (especially in creativity/obsession), wouldn't it make sense to ask in which ways the link between autism and mathematics ability is different in the postgrad level? $\endgroup$
    – Tim Wright
    Commented Aug 24, 2019 at 2:24
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for the link to the discussion in Academia.SE! It seems pretty interesting (especially your answer!). $\endgroup$
    – Tim Wright
    Commented Aug 24, 2019 at 2:25
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    $\begingroup$ I think the question still does respect your Maths distinction. I just don't want the evidence from another field to be suppressed. There are other professions where the dropout rate is high at a professional level, for example in the health/education professions, where nurses/teachers/social workers etc drop out at 5 years at a rate of about 50%... That issue might be relevant here too. Empathisizing may be toxic to such work environment potentially? Maybe the dropouts have less systematising required at a postgrad level? $\endgroup$
    – Poidah
    Commented Aug 24, 2019 at 2:29


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