Numerical Cognition in Action: Reaching Behavior Reveals Numerical Distance Effects in 5- to 6-Year-Olds

Christopher D. Erb, Jeff Moher, Joo-Hyun Song, David M. Sobel


This study investigates how children’s numerical cognition is reflected in their unfolding actions. Five- and 6-year-olds (N = 34) completed a numerical comparison task by reaching to touch one of three rectangles arranged horizontally on a digital display. A number from 1 to 9 appeared in the center rectangle on each trial. Participants were instructed to touch the left rectangle for numbers 1-4, the center rectangle for 5, and the right rectangle for 6-9. Reach trajectories were more curved toward the center rectangle for numbers closer to 5 (e.g., 4) than numbers further from 5 (e.g., 1). This finding indicates that a tight coupling exists between numerical and spatial information in children’s cognition and action as early as the preschool years. In addition to shedding new light on the spatial representation of numbers during childhood, our results highlight the promise of incorporating measures of manual dynamics into developmental research.


cognitive development; numerical distance effect (NDE); reach tracking; spatial cognition

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Copyright (c) 2018 Erb; Moher; Song; Sobel