Is Your Baby a Math Genius? Here’s How to Tell

According to a new study, your baby might be a math whiz if he or she has this skill.

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Every mom thinks her child is super smart—and according to a new study, you might be able to prove it when your baby is just 6 months old.

A study from Emory University found that a 6-month-old’s spatial reasoning skills can predict his or her aptitude for math at 4 years of age. 

“We’ve provided the earliest documented evidence for a relationship between spatial reasoning and math ability,” said psychologist Stella Lourenco, Ph.D., whose lab conducted the research, in a news release for the study. “We’ve shown that spatial reasoning beginning early in life, as young as six months of age, predicts both the continuity of this ability and mathematical development.”

The team tested 63 babies between the ages of 6 and 13 months, assessing their visual-spatial skills. Spatial awareness is essentially an understanding of where objects exist within a given space, and the study tested for the visual-spatial skill known as mental transformation, or the ability to transform and rotate objects in “mental space.” 

The children watched paired video streams showing two matching shapes that changed orientation in different ways, and researchers’ used eye-tracking technology to observe which shapes the babies looked at and for how long. Most of the infants studied (about 84 percent) returned at age 4, at which point their mathematical skills were tested. 

The results showed that the infants who spent more time looking at the video stream that required higher mental transformation abilities maintained those abilities at age 4, and also performed better on math problems. 

“Our results suggest that it’s not just a matter of smarter infants becoming smarter four-year-olds,” the study’s co-author Jillian Lourenco said. “Instead, we believe that we’ve honed in on something specific about early spatial reasoning and math ability.”

This isn’t the first study to tie spatial awareness to academic achievement: Previous research has shown an association between spatial aptitude in 13-year-olds to success in science, technology, engineering, and math.

“Our work may contribute to our understanding of the nature of mathematics,” Lourenco said. “By showing that spatial reasoning is related to individual differences in math ability, we’ve added to a growing literature suggesting a potential contribution for spatial reasoning in mathematics. We can now test the causal role that spatial reasoning may play early in life.”

This study might explain why certain people feel they’re just not good at math—and suggests that this skill can be honed. “We know that spatial reasoning is a malleable skill that can be improved with training. One possibility is that more focus should be put on spatial reasoning in early math education,” Laurenco said.

While it can be tough to test mental transformation on your own, you can probably help your baby improve this skill with some fun at-home activities. Then get ready for high-level calculus classes in your kid’s future!