The Unexplored Role of Handshape Similarity in Processing Numbers on the Hands


  • Ilaria Berteletti Orcid
  • SaraBeth J. Sullivan Orcid
  • Lucas Lancaster Orcid


With two simple experiments we investigate the overlooked influence of handshape similarity for processing numerical information conveyed on the hands. In most finger-counting sequences there is a tight relationship between the number of fingers raised and the numerical value represented. This creates a possible confound where numbers closer to each other are also represented by handshapes that are more similar. By using the American Sign Language (ASL) number signs we are able to dissociate between the two variables orthogonally. First, we test the effect of handshape similarity in a same/different judgment task in a group of hearing non-signers and then test the interference of handshape in a number judgment task in a group of native ASL signers. Our results show an effect of handshape similarity and its interaction with numerical value even in the group of native signers for whom these handshapes are linguistic symbols and not a learning tool for acquiring numerical concepts. Because prior studies have never considered handshape similarity, these results open new directions for understanding the relationship between finger-based counting, internal hand representations and numerical proficiency.