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How digits help digits: Relevance and development of finger motor skills and finger-based strategies in the context of early numerical learning

Project of the former Junior Research Group Neuro-cognitive Plasticity
FundingDeutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft
Project description

Numerical cognition has long been considered the perfect example of abstract information processing. However, in recent years there is accumulating evidence suggesting that the representation of number magnitude presents a specific case of embodied cognition. In particular, this refers to the idea that the way we process numbers is – at least partly - grounded in sensory and bodily experiences such as finger counting and calculating. Against this background, this project aimed at investigating how finger sensory and motor skills and finger-based strategies contribute to the development of numerical abilities in children.

Almost all children use their fingers for counting and initial calculation and even adults make use of them in certain situations. Nevertheless, there is currently neither agreement on the function of finger sensory and motor skills for early numerical development nor on whether finger-based strategies might be a useful instrument to corroborate children’s numerical development.

To pursue these questions different study designs combining experimental paradigms with cross-sectional and longitudinal studies in kindergarten children were used. This combination of studies allowed us to specifically evaluate whether finger-based strategies are critically involved in numerical learning. Moreover, this set of studies allowed us to systematically evaluate developmental trajectories of finger sensory and motor skills, finger-based strategies and numerical skills as well as their interplay throughout the kindergarten period. 

Thereby, this project did not only provide novel insights into the influence of finger-based strategies on the acquisition of early numerical abilities and the development of embodied numerosity. Instead, it also contributed to solving the debate on whether finger-based strategies are a valuable tool to acquire and even teach basic numerical concepts.


Prof. Dr. Martin Fischer, Universität Potsdam