Cognitive Science & Numeracy Lab

What are the building blocks of our representation of number?

Our ability to represent number is built upon two precursors: the ability to enumerate small sets without counting, or subitizing, and the ability to mentally represent one’s fingers, or finger gnosis (Butterworth, 1999). As part of our research program, we are investigating developmental and evolutionary precursors to numerical representation. Our longitudinal research supports a relation between subitizing, finger gnosis, and numeracy. We propose that the relation between finger and number representation exists because the two phenomena have overlapping neural substrates, making the relation one example in support of the Massive Redeployment Hypothesis of the functional organization of the cortex (Penner-Wilger & Anderson, 2008, 2013). Consistent with this redeployment view, our research shows activation in the left precentral gyrus for both finger and number representation (Penner-Wilger & Anderson, 2011). This research is significant not just for understanding the building blocks of numerical representations, but also because it serves as a model for a more integrative approach to functional localization in the brain.

 

This line of research was funded by research grants from King’s University University at Western University (to myself).

Key findings:

    The relation between finger gnosis and math ability may be the result of redeployment of a neural substrate that supports both finger gnosis and the representation of number, along with a wide variety of other uses (Penner-Wilger & Anderson, 2008, 2013).

  • Investigating overlapping functional complexes rather than modeling in isolation is a useful methodology that both guides and constrains function-structure mapping. Using a cross-domain methodology led to the suggestion of a novel, testable implementation of number representation (Penner-Wilger & Anderson, 2011).

Find out more:

Penner-Wilger, M. & Anderson, M. L. (2013). The relation between finger gnosis and mathematical ability: Why redeployment of neural circuits best explains the finding.  Frontiers in Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 4, 877.

Penner-Wilger, M., & Anderson, M. L. (2011). The relation between finger gnosis and mathematical ability: Can we attribute function to cortical structure with cross-domain modeling? Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Cognitive Science Society. Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.

Penner-Wilger, M., & Anderson, M. L. (2008). An alternative view of the relation between finger gnosis and math ability: Redeployment of finger representations for the representation of number. Proceedings of the 30th Annual Cognitive Science Society. Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.