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Front Psychol. 2011 Dec 21;2:373. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00373. eCollection 2011.

The role of finger representations and saccades for number processing: an FMRI study in children.

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  • 1Section Child Neuropsychology, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, University Hospital of the RWTH Aachen Aachen, Germany.


A possible functional role of finger representations for the development of early numerical cognition has been the subject of recent debate; however, until now, only behavioral studies have directly supported this view. Working from recent models of number processing, we focused on the neural networks involved in numerical tasks and their relationship to the areas underlying finger representations and saccades in children aged 6-12 years. We were able to differentiate three parietal circuits that were related to distinct aspects of number processing. Abstract magnitude processing was subserved by an association area also activated by saccades and visually guided finger movements. Addition processes led to activation in an area only engaged during saccade encoding, whereas counting processes resulted in the activation of an area only activated during visually guided finger movements, namely in the anterior intraparietal sulcus. Apart from this area, a large network of specifically finger-related brain areas including the ventral precentral sulcus, supplementary motor area, dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex, insula, thalamus, midbrain, and cerebellum was activated during (particularly non-symbolic) exact addition but not during magnitude comparison. Moreover, a finger-related activation cluster in the right ventral precentral sulcus was only present during non-symbolic addition and magnitude comparison, but not during symbolic number processing tasks. We conclude that finger counting may critically mediate the step from non-symbolic to symbolic and exact number processing via somatosensory integration processes and therefore represents an important example of embodied cognition.


canonical numerical hand shapes; movement vocabulary; ordinal aspects of cognition

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