Observation of directional storybook reading influences young children's counting direction

Silke M. Göbel, Koleen McCrink, Martin H. Fischer, Samuel Shaki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Even before formal schooling, children map numbers onto space in a directional manner. The origin of this preliterate spatial–numerical association is still debated. We investigated the role of enculturation for shaping the directionality of the association between numbers and space, focusing on counting behavior in 3- to 5-year-old preliterate children. Two studies provide evidence that, after observing reading from storybooks (left-to-right or right-to-left reading) children change their counting direction in line with the direction of observed reading. Just observing visuospatial directional movements had no such effect on counting direction. Complementarily, we document that book illustrations, prevalent in children's cultures, exhibit directionality that conforms to the direction of a culture's written language. We propose that shared book reading activates spatiotemporal representations of order in young children, which in turn affect their spatial representation of numbers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-66
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
StatePublished - Feb 2018


  • Counting direction
  • Cross-cultural
  • Mental number line
  • Preschool children
  • Reading
  • Spatial–numerical association


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