Embodied numerical representations and their association with multi-digit arithmetic performance

  • Roberta BarrocasEmail author
  • Stephanie Roesch
  • Verena Dresen
  • Korbinian Moeller
  • Silvia Pixner
Research Article


There is a well-documented association between fingers and numbers, which was claimed to stem from the use of finger-based strategies for counting and calculating during childhood. Recently, it has been argued that this may lead to a concomitant activation of finger-based alongside other numerical representations when encountering single-digit numbers. Indeed, the occurrence of such a co-activation is supported by observed influences of finger counting habits on different numerical tasks, including single-digit arithmetic problem solving. In this study, we pursued the question whether the influence of finger-based representations on arithmetic generalizes to multi-digit arithmetic by investigating the association between the recognition of canonical and non-canonical finger patterns and multi-digit arithmetic in adults. Results indicated that canonical finger-based numerical representations were significantly associated with addition performance only, whereas non-canonical finger-based representations were associated significantly with all four arithmetic operations. We argue that, because non-canonical patterns do not benefit from the iconicity of canonical patterns, their magnitude may need to be constructed through magnitude manipulation which may in turn increase associations with mental arithmetic. In sum, our findings provide converging evidence for a functional association between finger-based representations and arithmetic performance.


Finger counting Arithmetic Embodied cognition Embodied numerosity 



This study was partially funded by the Leibniz-WissenschaftsCampus Cognitive Interfaces (IWM-WCT TP11 “Digits grasp digits”) supporting the first author.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

No conflict of interest was reported by any authors.


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Copyright information

© Marta Olivetti Belardinelli and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Leibniz-Institut fuer WissensmedienTübingenGermany
  2. 2.Institute of PsychologyUMIT – Private University for Health Sciences, Medical Informatics and TechnologyHall in TirolAustria
  3. 3.LEAD Graduate School and Research Network, Department of PsychologyUniversity of TübingenTübingenGermany

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