Hand Position Affects Performance on Multiplication Tasks


  • Christopher C. Davoli
  • Connor D. O’Rear
  • Emily McAulay
  • Nicole M. McNeil
  • James R. Brockmole


We investigated whether or not hand placement affects people’s ability to apply learned mathematical information in new and familiar contexts. Participants learned a set of arithmetic facts presented one way (i.e., in a × b = c format) and then were tested on those same facts shown in either a novel format (b × a = __) in Experiment 1 or in the previously-learned format (a × b = __) in Experiment 2. Throughout study and test, participants’ hands were either near to or far from the stimuli. Performance on the novel format was worse when the hands were near compared to far, but performance on the previously-learned format did not depend on hand placement. Together, results indicate that hand proximity impairs mathematical performance when performance depends on the abstracting of conceptual information from sensory information. We conclude that hand placement may be involved in the application of knowledge.