Numbers can move our hands: a spatial representation effect in digits handwriting

Exp Brain Res. 2010 Sep;205(4):479-87. doi: 10.1007/s00221-010-2383-3. Epub 2010 Aug 11.


The interaction between numbers and action-related processes is currently one of the most investigated topics in numerical cognition. The present study contributes to this line of research by investigating, for the first time, the effects of number on an overlearned complex motor plan that does not require explicit lateralised movements or strict spatial constrains: spontaneous handwriting. In particular, we investigated whether the spatial mapping of numbers interferes with the motor planning involved in writing. To this aim, participants' spontaneous handwriting of single digits (Exp. 1) and letters (Exp. 2) was recorded with a digitising tablet. We show that the writing of numbers is characterised by a spatial dislocation of the digits as a function of their magnitude, i.e., small numbers were written leftwards relative to large numbers. In contrast, the writing of letters showed a null or marginal effect with respect to their dislocation on the writing area. These findings show that the automatic mapping of numbers into space interacts with action planning by modulating specific motor parameters in spontaneous handwriting.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Hand / physiology*
  • Handwriting*
  • Humans
  • Intention
  • Male
  • Mathematics*
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Young Adult