Does reading maps make you nervous? Blame your genes

London: If the very thought of spatial and mathematical tasks, such as reading a map or solving a geometry problem, makes you nervous, it could be partly due to your genes, suggests a new research.

“Our results have important implications for finding specific genes which contribute to differences in anxiety between people,” said Margherita Malanchini from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London.

“Pinpointing specific genes for anxiety could help in identifying children who are most at risk from very early in their lives, and subsequently to intervene and prevent the development of anxiety in these different contexts,” Malanchini added.

In the study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers measured anxiety in a sample of more than 1,400 twin pairs aged 19 to 21 from the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS).

The researchers identified several different forms of anxiety — general, mathematics, navigation and rotation/visualisation.

All forms of anxiety showed a substantial genetic component, with DNA explaining over a third of the differences between people.

Non-shared environments were found to explain the rest of the differences between people in spatial anxiety, which are environments that twins raised in the same family do not share, such as different extra-curricular activities, teachers and friends.

For instance, non-shared environments such as driving, cycling or playing computer games may be particularly relevant to spatial anxiety, the researchers said.

The study also showed that people who are anxious about navigation are not necessarily anxious about rotation/visualisation tasks, such as completing a complex jigsaw puzzle.

The same was found for mathematics and general anxiety, showing that those who experience spatial anxiety do not necessarily tend to experience anxiety when faced with a mathematical tasks.

The researchers also found a small but significant gender difference in their sample, with women showing higher levels of anxiety than men across all areas.

This could be due to women being more willing to disclose their feelings of anxiety, or anxiety caused by the stereotype that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects are “for men”, the researchers said.