The Math Gene Myth

The Math Gene

I have three children….all with dark hair, dark eyes and about the same body type.  The reason, of course, is that genetics play a big part in how my kids will look.   Producing blue-eyed blonde children would have been genetically impossible for me and my brunette husband!   

Some people don’t mind math and some people don’t mind root canals.  There is no accounting for taste, perhaps.   But, however much a person dislikes math, your brain is really no different from a world-class mathematician’s brain says Keith Devlin, a mathematician and Dean of Science at Saint Mary’s College whose book, The Math Gene, covers the topic of how humans developed mathematical abilities. 

Devlin’s research states that mathematical thinking is a combination of nine basic mental abilities that all of us have.   Now, that’s genetic! The most basic is ‘number sense’ which is hard-wired in humans and not learned.  Other traits which are hard-wired include spatial reasoning, relational reasoning, abstract reasoning and logic. 

People who find math ‘easy’ are better at abstraction, or the ability to think about possibilities as well as reality. How does one get better at this?   The same way you get to Carnegie Hall or to the NFL….. practice, practice, practice, practice.   In fact, if children practice math from a very young age, they are on track to do well in math for the rest of their lives.   

By teaching math concepts at a younger age and putting stronger cultural emphasis on practicing math, we can help our kids avoid negative math mindsets.  Struggles are not roadblocks but the very stepping stones on which skill and intelligence are built.

So…. next time you are tempted to say ‘Well I wasn’t good at math either so……’  remember that learning math is not like an inheriting blue eyes!   


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