Cognitive Processing

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 139–146 | Cite as

Does finger sense predict addition performance?

  • Sharlene D. NewmanEmail author
Research Report


The impact of fingers on numerical and mathematical cognition has received a great deal of attention recently. However, the precise role that fingers play in numerical cognition is unknown. The current study explores the relationship between finger sense, arithmetic and general cognitive ability. Seventy-six children between the ages of 5 and 12 participated in the study. The results of stepwise multiple regression analyses demonstrated that while general cognitive ability including language processing was a predictor of addition performance, finger sense was not. The impact of age on the relationship between finger sense, and addition was further examined. The participants were separated into two groups based on age. The results showed that finger gnosia score impacted addition performance in the older group but not the younger group. These results appear to support the hypothesis that fingers provide a scaffold for calculation and that if that scaffold is not properly built, it has continued differential consequences to mathematical cognition.


Finger gnosia Cognition Number Arithmetic 



This research was funded by a Grant from Indiana University (FRSP). I would like to thank Roy Seo, Jessica Denton, Galen Hartman, Priyanka Ghosh and Taylor Hurst for the assistance with data collection.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


  1. Alibali MW, DiRusso AA (1999) The function of gesture in learning to count: more than keeping track. Cogn Dev 14:37–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ardila A (1993) On the origins of calculation abilities. Behav Neurol 6:89–98. doi: 10.1097/00006454-199401000-00033 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Aunola K, Leskinen E, Lerkkanen M-K, Nurmi J-E (2004) Developmental dynamics of math performance from preschool to grade 2. J Educ Psychol 96:699–713. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.96.4.699 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Badets A, Pesenti M (2010) Creating number semantics through finger movement perception. Cognition 115(1):46–53CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Badets A, Pesenti M, Olivier E (2010) Response–effect compatibility of finger–numeral configurations in arithmetical context. Q J Exp Psychol 63(1):16–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Barrouillet P, Thevenot C (2013) On the problem-size effect in small additions: Can we really discard any counting-based account? Cognition 128(1):35–44CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Benton AL (1955) Development of finger-localization capacity in school children. Child Dev 26:225–230CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Berteletti I, Man G, Booth JR (2015) How number line estimation skills relate to neural activations in single digit subtraction problems. NeuroImage 107:198–206CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  9. Burns M (1996) How to make the most of math manipulatives. Instructor 105(7):45–51Google Scholar
  10. Butterworth B (1999a) A head for figures. Science 284(5416):928 (New York, NY) CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Butterworth B (1999b) What counts: how every brain is hardwired for math. The Free Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  12. Butterworth B (2005) The development of arithmetical abilities. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 46(1):3–18CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Chinello A, Cattani V, Bonfiglioli C, Dehaene S, Piazza M (2013) Objects, numbers, fingers, space: clustering of ventral and dorsal functions in young children and adults. Dev Sci 16(3):377–393CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. De La Cruz V, Di Nuovo A, Di Nuovo S, Cangelosi A (2014) Making fingers and words count in a cognitive robot. Front Behav Neurosci 8:1–12Google Scholar
  15. 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 103:186–201CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. De Smedt B, Taylor J, Archibald L, Ansari D (2010) How is phonological processing related to individual differences in children’s arithmetic skills? Dev Sci 13(3):508–520CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Di Luca S, Pesenti M (2008) Masked priming effect with canonical finger numeral configurations. Exp Brain Res 185(1):27–39CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Di Luca S, Grana A, Semenza C, Seron X, Pesenti M (2006) Finger-digit compatibility in Arabic numeral processing. Q J Exp Psychol 59(9):1648–1663CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 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 116:251–266CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Fayol M, Barrouillet P, Marinthe C (1998) Predicting arithmetical achievement from neuro-psychological performance: a longitudinal study. Cognition 68(2):B63–B70CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Fayol M, Seron X (2005) About numerical representations: insights from neuropsychological, experimental, and developmental studies. In: Campbell JID (ed) Handbook of mathematical cognition, Psychology Press, NewYork, pp 3–22Google Scholar
  22. Fias W, Fischer M (2005) Spatial representation of numbers. In: Handbook of mathematical cognition, Psychology Press, New York, pp 43–54Google Scholar
  23. Fischer MH (2006) The future for SNARC could be stark. Cortex 42:1066–1068CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Fischer MH, Brugger P (2011) When digits help digits: spatial–numerical associations point to finger counting as prime example of embodied cognition. Front psychol 2:41–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Fuson KC (1988) Children’s counting and concepts of number. Springer, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Fuson KC (1990) Issues in place-value and multidigit addition and subtraction learning and teaching. J Res Math Educ 21:273–280CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Fuson KC, Briars DJ (1990) Using a base-ten blocks learning/teaching approach for first- and second-grade place-value and multidigit addition and subtraction. J Res Math Educ 21:180–206CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Fuson KC, Richards J, Briars DJ (1982) The acquisition and elaboration of the number word sequence. In: Brainerd CJ (ed) Children’s logical and mathematical cognition. Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  29. Geary DC (1993) Mathematical disabilities: cognitive, neuropsychological, and genetic components. Psychol Bull 114:345–362. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.114.2.345 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Gerstmann J (1940) Syndrome of finger agnosia, disorientation for right and left, agraphia and acalculia. Arch Neurol Psychiatry 44:398–408CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Glenberg AM, Gutierrez T, Levin JR, Japuntich S, Kaschak MP (2004) Activity and imagined activity can enhance young children’s reading comprehension. J Educ Psychol 96(3):424CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Greenough WT, Black JE, Wallace CS (1987) Experience and brain development. Child Dev 58:539–559CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Halberda J, Feigenson L (2008) Developmental change in the acuity of the “Number Sense”: the approximate number system in 3-, 4-, 5-, and 6-year-olds and adults. Dev Psychol 44(5):1457CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Imbo I, Vandierendonck A (2007) The role of phonological and executive working memory resources in simple arithmetic strategies. Eur J Cogn Psychol 19:910–933CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Imbo I, Vandierendonck A (2008) Effects of problem size, operation, and working-memory span on simple-arithmetic strategies: Differences between children and adults? Psychol Res 72(3):331–346CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Jordan NC, Huttenlocher J, Levine SC (1992) Differential calculation abilities in young children from middle-and low-income families. Dev Psychol 28(4):644CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Jordan NC, Levine SC, Huttenlocher J (1994) Development of calculation abilities in middle-and low-income children after formal instruction in school. J Appl Dev Psychol 15(2):223–240CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Jordan NC, Kaplan D, Ramineni C, Locuniak M (2008) Development of number combination skill in the early school years: When do fingers help? Dev Sci 11:662–668CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Jordan J-A, Wylie J, Mulhern G (2010) Phonological awareness and mathematical difficulty: a longitudinal perspective. Br J Dev Psychol 28:89–107CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Krajewski K, Schneider W (2009) Exploring the impact of phonological awareness, visual–spatial working memory, and preschool quantity–number competencies on mathematics achievement in elementary school: findings from a 3-year longitudinal study. J Exp Child Psychol 103(4):516–531CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Mazzocco MM, Feigenson L, Halberda J (2011) Preschoolers’ precision of the approximate number system predicts later school mathematics performance. PLoS One 6(9):e23749CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  42. Newman SD, Soylu F (2014) The impact of finger counting habits on arithmetic in adults and children. Psychol Res 78(4):549–556CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Noel M (2005) Finger gnosia: A predictor of numerical abilities in children? Child Neuropsychol 11(5):413–430CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Oldfield RC (1971) The assessment and analysis of handedness: the Edinburgh inventory. Neuropsychologia 9(1):97–113CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Passolunghi MC, Lanfranchi S (2012) Domain-specific and domain-general precursors of mathematical achievement: a longitudinal study from kindergarten to first grade. Br J Educ Psychol 82:42–63CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Passolunghi MC, Siegel LS (2004) Working memory and access to numerical information in children with disability in mathematics. J Exp Child Psychol 88:348–367CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Passolunghi MC, Vercelloni B, Schadee H (2007) The precursors of mathematics learning: working memory, phonological ability, and numerical competence. Cogn Dev 22:165–184CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Penner-Wilger M, Anderson ML (2013) The relation between finger gnosis and mathematical ability: why redeployment of neural circuits best explains the finding. Front Psychol 4(December):877PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  49. Penner-Wilger M, Fast L, LeFevre J, Smith-Chant BL, Skwarchuk S, Kamawar D, Bisanz J (2007) The foundations of numeracy: subitizing, finger gnosia, and fine-motor ability. In: McNamara DS, Trafton JG (eds) Proceedings of the 29th annual Cognitive Science Society. Cognitive Science Society, Austin, pp 1385–1390Google Scholar
  50. Penner-Wilger M, Fast L, Lefevre JA, Smith-Chant BL, Skwarchuk SL, Kamawar D, Bisanz J, Deslauriers WA (2008) Investigating the building blocks of numerical representations: subitizing and finger gnosis. In: Proceedings of the 30th annual conference of the Cognitive Science Society. Cognitive Science Society, AustinGoogle Scholar
  51. Pesenti M, Thioux M, Seron X, Volder AD (2000) Neuroanatomical substrates of Arabic number processing, numerical comparison, and simple addition: a PET study. J Cogn Neurosci 12(3):461–479CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Reeves R, Humberstone J (2011) Five- to 7-year olds’ finger gnosia and calculation abilities. Front Psychol 2:1–10Google Scholar
  53. Robinson CS, Menchetti BM, Torgesen JK (2002) Toward a two-factor theory of one type of mathematics disabilities. Learn Disabil Res Pract 17:81–89CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Sato M, Cattaneo L, Rizzolatti G, Gallese V (2007) Numbers within our hands: modulation of corticospinal excitability of hand muscles during numerical judgment. J Cogn Neurosci 19(4):684–693CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  55. Simmons F, Singleton C (2008) Do weak phonological representations impact on arithmetic development? A review of research into arithmetic and dyslexia. Dyslexia 14:77–94. doi: 10.1002/dys.341 (Chichester, England) CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  56. Sternberg RJ, Grigorenko EL (2004) Successful intelligence in the classroom. Theory Into Pract 43:274–280CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Suh JM (2007) Tying it all together: building mathematics proficiency for all students. Teach Child Math 14(3):163–169Google Scholar
  58. Thompson PW (1994) Concrete materials and teaching for mathematical understanding. Arith Teach 41(9):556–558Google Scholar
  59. Treiman R, Zukowski A (1991) Levels of phonological awareness. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc., LondonGoogle Scholar
  60. Tschentscher N, Hauk O, Fischer MH, Pulvermüller F (2012) You can count on the motor cortex: finger counting habits modulate motor cortex activation evoked by numbers. Neuroimage 59(4):3139–3148CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  61. Woodcock RW, McGrew KS, Mather N (2001) Woodcock–Johnson III tests of cognitive abilities. Riverside Pub, HalifaxGoogle Scholar
  62. Zago L, Pesenti M, Mellet E, Crivello F, Mazoyer B, Tzourio-Mazoyer N (2001) Neural correlates of simple and complex mental calculation. Neuroimage 13(2):314–327CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Marta Olivetti Belardinelli and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychological and Brain SciencesIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations