Genetics and mathematics: Evidence from Prader-Willi syndrome

Carlo Semenza, Riccardo Pignatti, Laura Bertella, Francesca Ceriani, Ileana Mori, Enrico Molinari, Daniela Giardino, Francesca Malvestiti, Graziano Grugni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mathematical abilities were tested in people with Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS), using a series of basic mathematical tasks for which normative data are available. The difference between the deletion and the disomy variants of this condition was explored. While a wide phenotypic variation was found, some basic findings emerge clearly. As expected from previous literature, deletion and disomy participants were found to differ in their degree of impairment, with disomy being overall the most spared condition. However, the tasks selectively spared in the disomy condition are not necessarily the easiest ones and those that discriminate less the PWS group from controls. It rather seems that disomy patients are spared, with respect to deletion, in tasks entailing transcoding and comparison of numbers in the Arabic code. Overall a particular difficulty was detected in reliably performing parity judgments. This task has been shown to be very frequently spared after a brain injury, even in severe aphasic conditions. The most interesting result is the sparing in analog number scale, whereby PWS seem, overall, to outperform controls. This finding may help in understanding previously reported, surprising results about cognitive skills in PWS. Elevated performances in PWS may result from life-long hyper-reliance on one visuo-spatial system in presence of underdevelopment of the other.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)206-212
Number of pages7
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • Calculation
  • Genetic disorders
  • Numbers
  • Prader-Willi syndrome
  • Visuo-spatial system

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


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