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Cortex. 2008 Apr;44(4):359-67. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2007.08.001. Epub 2007 Dec 23.

Mind the gap between both hands: evidence for internal finger-based number representations in children's mental calculation.

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Lehr- und Forschungsgebiet Neurolinguistik, Universitätsklinikum der RWTH Aachen, Aachen, Germany.


At a certain stage of development, virtually all children use some kind of external finger-based number representation. However, only little is known about how internal traces of this early external representation may still influence calculation even when finger calculation ceases to be an efficient tool in mental calculation. In the present study, we provide evidence for a disproportionate number of split-five errors (i.e., errors with a difference of +/-5 from the correct result) in mental addition and subtraction (e.g., 18 - 7 = 6). We will argue that such errors may have different origins. For complex problems and initially also for simple problems they are due to failure to keep track of 'full hands' in counting or calculation procedures. However, for simple addition problems split-five errors may later also be caused by mistakes in directly retrieving the result from declarative memory. In general, the present results are interpreted in terms of a transient use of mental finger patterns - in particular the whole hand pattern - in children's mental calculation.

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