A cross-cultural comparison of finger-based and symbolic number representations

Martin H. Fischer, Arianna Felisatti, Xin Li, Samuel Shaki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The current study examined predictions from embodied cognition for effects of finger counting on number processing. Although finger counting is spontaneous and nearly universal, counting habits reflect learning and culture. European cultures use a sub-base-five system, requiring a full hand plus additional fingers to express numbers exceeding 5. Chinese culture requires only one hand to express such numbers. We investigated the differential impact of early-acquired finger-based number representations on adult symbolic number processing. In total, 53 European and 56 Chinese adults performed two versions of the magnitude classification task, where numbers were presented either as Arabic symbols or as finger configurations consistent with respective cultural finger-counting habits. Participants classified numbers as smaller/larger than 5 with horizontally aligned buttons. Finger-based size and distance effects were larger in Chinese compared with Europeans. These differences did not, however, induce reliably different symbol processing signatures. This dissociation challenges the idea that sensory and motor habits shape our conceptual representations and implies notation-specific processing patterns.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105979
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Volume246
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2024

Keywords

  • Cultural biases
  • Embodied cognition
  • Finger counting
  • Spatial–numerical associations
  • Symbolic numbers

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