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Aspects of situated cognition in embodied numerosity: the case of finger counting


Numerical cognitions such as spatial-numerical associations have been observed to be influenced by grounded, embodied and situated factors. For the case of finger counting, grounded and embodied influences have been reported. However, situated influences, e.g., that reported counting habits change with perception and action within a given situation, have not been systematically examined. To pursue the issue of situatedness of reported finger-counting habits, 458 participants were tested in three separate groups: (1) spontaneous condition: counting with both hands available, (2) perceptual condition: counting with horizontal (left-to-right) perceptual arrangement of fingers (3) perceptual and proprioceptive condition: counting with horizontal (left-to-right) perceptual arrangement of fingers and with busy dominant hand. Report of typical counting habits differed strongly between the three conditions. 28 % reported to start counting with the left hand in the spontaneous counting condition (1), 54 % in the perceptual condition (2) and 62 % in the perceptual and proprioceptive condition (3). Additionally, all participants in the spontaneous counting group showed a symmetry-based counting pattern (with the thumb as number 6), while in the two other groups, a considerable number of participants exhibited a spatially continuous counting pattern (with the pinkie as number 6). Taken together, the study shows that reported finger-counting habits depend on the perceptual and proprioceptive situation and thus are strongly influenced by situated cognition. We suggest that this account reconciles apparently contradictory previous findings of different counting preferences regarding the starting hand in different examination situations.

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Mirjam Wasner, Korbinian Moeller and Hans-Christoph Nuerk are members of the “Cooperative Research Training Group” of the University of Education, Ludwigsburg and the University of Tuebingen, which is supported by the Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts in Baden-Württemberg. They are also  associated with the LEAD Graduate School of the University of Tuebingen, which is funded within the framework of the Excellence Initiative via the German Research Foundation. Martin H. Fischer was supported through DFG Grant FI 1915/2-1 on "Manumerical cognition".

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Correspondence to Mirjam Wasner.

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Wasner, M., Moeller, K., Fischer, M.H. et al. Aspects of situated cognition in embodied numerosity: the case of finger counting. Cogn Process 15, 317–328 (2014).

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  • Finger counting
  • Situated cognition
  • Number processing
  • Finger-digit mapping