Cognitive Processing

, Volume 13, Supplement 1, pp 161–164 | Cite as

A hierarchical view of grounded, embodied, and situated numerical cognition

  • Martin H. Fischer
Short Report


There is much recent interest in the idea that we represent our knowledge together with the sensory and motor features that were activated during its acquisition. This paper reviews the evidence for such “embodiment” in the domain of numerical cognition, a traditional stronghold of abstract theories of knowledge representation. The focus is on spatial-numerical associations, such as the SNARC effect (small numbers are associated with left space, larger numbers with right space). Using empirical evidence from behavioral research, I first describe sensory and motor biases induced by SNARC, thus identifying numbers as embodied concepts. Next, I propose a hierarchical relationship between grounded, embodied, and situated aspects of number knowledge. This hierarchical conceptualization helps to understand the variety of SNARC-related findings and yields testable predictions about numerical cognition. I report several such tests, ranging from cross-cultural comparisons of horizontal and vertical SNARC effects (Shaki and Fischer in J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform 38(3):804–809, 2012) to motor cortical activation studies in adults with left- and right-hand counting preferences (Tschentscher et al. in NeuroImage 59:3139–3148, 2012). It is concluded that the diagnostic features for each level of the proposed hierarchical knowledge representation, together with the spatial associations of numbers, make the domain of numerical knowledge an ideal testing ground for embodied cognition research.


Embodied cognition Grounded cognition Numerical cognition SNARC effect 


Conflict of interest

This supplement was not sponsored by outside commercial interests. It was funded entirely by ECONA, Via dei Marsi, 78, 00185 Roma, Italy.


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Copyright information

© Marta Olivetti Belardinelli and Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Cognitive SciencesUniversity of PotsdamPotsdamGermany
  2. 2.Psychology DepartmentUniversity of PotsdamPotsdam, GolmGermany

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