Psychological Research

, Volume 78, Issue 4, pp 549–556 | Cite as

The impact of finger counting habits on arithmetic in adults and children

Original Article

Abstract

Here, we explored the impact of finger counting habits on arithmetic in both adults and children. Two groups of participants were examined, those that begin counting with their left hand (left-starters) and those that begin counting with their right hand (right-starters). For the adults, performance on an addition task in which participants added 2 two-digit numbers was compared. The results revealed that left-starters were slower than right-starters when adding and they had lower forward and backward digit-span scores. The children (aged 5–12) showed similar results on a single-digit timed addition task—right-starters outperformed left-starters. However, the children did not reveal differences in working memory or verbal and non-verbal intelligence as a function of finger counting habit. We argue that the motor act of finger counting influences how number is represented and suggest that left-starters may have a more bilateral representation that accounts for the slower processing.

References

  1. Aglioti, S., Berlucchi, G., Pallini, R., Rossi, G. F., & Tassinari, G. (1993). Hemispheric control of unilateral and bilateral responses to lateralized light stimuli after Callosotomy and in Callosal Agenesis. Exp Brain Res, 95, 151–165.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alibali, M. W., & DiRusso, A. A. (1999). The function of gesture in learning to count: more than keeping track. Cognitive Development, 14(1), 37–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Andres, M., Seron, X., & Olivier, E. (2007). Contribution of hand motor circuits to counting. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 19, 563–576.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Butler, A.J. & James, K.H. (under review). Unisensory and multisensory recognition of actively vs. passively learned audiovisual associations.Google Scholar
  5. Butterworth, B. (1999). A head for figures. Science (New York, NY), 284(5416), 928.Google Scholar
  6. Butterworth, B. (2005). The development of arithmetical abilities. J Child Psychol Psychiatry, 46(1), 3–18.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cantlon, J. F., & Brannon, E. M. (2007). Adding up the effects of cultural experience on the brain. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 11(1), 1–4.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chao, L. L., & Martin, A. (2000). Representation of manipulable man-made objects in the dorsal stream. Neuroimage, 12(4), 478–484.Google Scholar
  9. Chochon, F., Cohen, L., van de Moortele, P. F., & Dehaene, S. (1999). Differential contributions of the left and right inferior parietal lobules to number processing. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 11, 617–630.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. De Smedt, B., Janssen, R., Bouwens, K., Verschaffel, L., Boets, B., & Ghesquiere, P. (2009). Working memory and individual differences in mathematics achievement: a longitudinal study from first grade to second grade. J Exp Child Psychol, 103, 186–201.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. DeStefano, D., & LeFevre, J. A. (2004). The role of working memory in mental arithmetic. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 16(3), 353–386.Google Scholar
  12. Dehaene, S., Bossini, S., & Giraux, P. (1993). The mental representation of parity and number magnitude. J Exp Psychol Gen, 122, 371.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Di Luca, S., Grana, A., Semenza, C., Seron, X., & Pesenti, M. (2006). Finger-digit compatibility in Arabic numeral processing. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 59(9), 1648–1663.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Domahs, F., Krinzinger, H., & Willmes, K. (2008). Mind the gap between both hands: evidence for internal finger-based number representations in children’s mental calculation. Cortex, 44(4), 359–367.Google Scholar
  15. Domahs, F., Moeller, K., Huber, S., Willmes, K., & Nuerk, H.-C. (2010). Embodied numerosity: implicit hand-based representations influence symbolic number processing across cultures. Cognition, 116, 251–266.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fayol, M., & Seron, X. (2005). About numerical representations: insights from neuropsychological, experimental, and developmental studies. In I. I. D. Campbell (Ed.), Handbook of Mathematical Cognition (pp. 3–22). New York: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  17. Fias, W., & Fischer, M. (2005). Spatial representation of numbers. In J. I. D. Campbell (Ed.), Handbook of mathematical cognition (pp. 43–54). New York: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  18. Fischer, M. (2008). Finger counting habits modulate spatial-numerical associations. Cortex, 44(4), 386–392.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fuson, K. C. (1982). An analysis of the counting-on solution procedure in addition (pp. 67–81). Addition and subtraction: A cognitive perspective.Google Scholar
  20. Gauthier, I., Skudlarski, P., Gore, J. C., & Anderson, A. W. (2000). Expertise for cars and birds recruits brain areas involved in face recognition. Nat Neurosci, 3, 191–197.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Geary, D. C., Hoard, M. K., Byrd-Craven, J., & Desoto, M. (2004). Strategy choices in simple and complex addition: contributions of working memory and counting knowledge for children with mathematical disability. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 88, 121–151.Google Scholar
  22. Imbo, I., & Vandierendonck, A. (2007). The role of phonological and executive working memory resources in simple arithmetic strategies. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 19(6), 910–933.Google Scholar
  23. Imbo, I., Vandierendonck, A., & Fias, W. (2011). Passive hand movements disrupt adults’ counting strategies. Frontiers Cognition, 2, 1–5.Google Scholar
  24. James, K. H. (2010). Sensori-motor experience leads to changes in visual processing in the developing brain. Developmental Science, 13, 279–288.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. James, K. H., & Atwood, T. P. (2009). The role of sensorimotor learning in the perception of letter-like forms: tracking the causes of neural specialization for letters. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 26(1), 91–110.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. James, K. H., James, T. W., Jobard, G., Wong, C.-N., & Gauthier, I. (2005). Letter processing in the visual system: different activation patterns for single letters and strings. Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience, 5, 452–466.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kucian, K., von Aster, M., Loenneker, T., Dietrich, T., & Martin, E. (2008). Development of neural networks for exact and approximate calculation: a fMRI Study. Developmental Neuropsychology, 33(4), 447–473.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. LeFevre, J. A., Sadesky, G. S., & Bisanz, J. (1996). Selection of procedures in mental addition: reassessing the problem size effect in adults. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 22(1), 216.Google Scholar
  29. Lindemann, O., Alipour, A., & Fischer, M. (2011). Finger counting habits in middle eastern and western individuals: an online survey. J Cross Cult Psychol, 42, 566–578.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lindemann, O., & Tira, M. D. (2011). Operational momentum in numerosity production judgments of multi-digit number problems. Zeitschrift für Psychologie, 219(1), 50–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. National Mathematics Advisory Panel. (2008). Foundations for success: the final report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel. Washington: US Department of Education.Google Scholar
  32. Newman, S. D., Willoughby, G., & Pruce, B. (2011). The effect of problem structure on problem-solving: an fMRI study of word versus number problems. Brain Res, 1410, 77–88.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Oldfield, R. C. (1971). The assessment and analysis of handedness: the Edinburgh inventory. Neuropsychologia, 9(1), 97–113.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Park, J., Hebrank, A., Polk, T. A., & Park, D. C. (2011). Neural dissociation of number from letter recognition and its relationship to parietal numerical processing. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 24, 39–50.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Passolunghi, M. C., & Siegel, L. S. (2004). Working memory and access to numerical information in children with disability in mathematics. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 88(4), 348–367.Google Scholar
  36. Pesenti, M., Thioux, M., Seron, X., & Volder, A. D. (2000). Neuroanatomical substrates of Arabic number processing, numerical comparison, and simple addition: a PET study. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 12(3), 461–479.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Pinel, P., & Dehaene, S. (2010). Beyond hemispheric dominance: brain regions underlying the joint lateralization of language and arithmetic to the left hemisphere. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 22(1), 48–66.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Pinhas, M., & Fischer, M. H. (2008). Mental movements without magnitude? A study of spatial biases in symbolic arithmetic. Cognition, 109, 408–415.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Polk, T. A., Stallcup, M., Aguirre, G. K., Alsop, D. C., D’Esposito, M., Detre, J. A., et al. (2002). Neural specialization for letter recognition. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 14, 145–159.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Sato, M., Cattaneo, L., Rizzolatti, G., & Gallese, V. (2007). Numbers within our hands: modulation of corticospinal excitability of hand muscles during numerical judgment. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 19(4), 684–693.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Sato, M., & Lalain, M. (2008). On the relationship between handedness and hand-digit mapping in finger counting. Cortex; A Journal Devoted to the Study of the Nervous System and Behavior, 44(4), 393–399.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Seyler, D. J., Kirk, E. P., & Ashcraft, M. H. (2003). Elementary Subtraction. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 29(6), 1339.Google Scholar
  43. Siegler, R. S., & Opfer, J. E. (2003). The development of numerical estimation: evidence for multiple representations of numerical quantity. Psychol Sci, 14, 237–243.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Soylu, F. & Newman, S. D. (2011). Is arithmetic embodied? Differential interference of sequential finger tapping on addition during a dual task paradigm. In: Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society.Google Scholar
  45. Tschentscher, N., Hauk, O., Fischer, M. H., & Pulvermüller, F. (2012). You can count on the motor cortex: finger counting habits modulate motor cortex activation evoked by numbers. Neuroimage, 59(4), 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Vandenberg, S. G. (1971). Mental rotation test. Boulder: University of Colorado.Google Scholar
  47. Woodcock, R. W., McGrew, K. S., & Mather, N. (2001). Woodcock-Johnson III Tests of Cognitive Abilities. Rolling Meadows: Riverside Publication.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychological and Brain SciencesIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  2. 2.School of Education and Social Policy, Northwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA

Personalised recommendations