The role of epistasis in the genetic architecture of quantitative traits is controversial, despite the biological plausibility that nonlinear molecular interactions underpin the genotype-phenotype map. This controversy arises because most genetic variation for quantitative traits is additive. However, additive variance is consistent with pervasive epistasis. In this Review, I discuss experimental designs to detect the contribution of epistasis to quantitative trait phenotypes in model organisms. These studies indicate that epistasis is common, and that additivity can be an emergent property of underlying genetic interaction networks. Epistasis causes hidden quantitative genetic variation in natural populations and could be responsible for the small additive effects, missing heritability and the lack of replication that are typically observed for human complex traits.