Creating semantics in tool use

Cogn Process. 2017 May;18(2):129-134. doi: 10.1007/s10339-017-0795-8. Epub 2017 Feb 21.


This article presents the first evidence for a functional link between tool use and the processing of abstract symbols like Arabic numbers. Participants were required to perform a tool-use task after the processing of an Arabic number. These numbers represented either a small (2 or 3) or a large magnitude (8 or 9). The tool-use task consisted in using inverse pliers for gripping either a small or a large object. The inverse pliers enable to dissociate the hand action from the tool action in relation to the object (i.e., closing the hand led to an opening of the tool and vice versa). The number/tool hypothesis predicts that the quantity representation associated with Arabic numbers will interact with the action of the tool toward the object. Conversely, the number/hand hypothesis predicts that the quantity associated with numbers will interact with the action of the hand toward the tool. Results confirmed the first hypothesis and rejected the second. Indeed, large numbers interacted with the action of the tool, such that participants were longer to perform an "opening-hand/closing-tool" action after the processing of large numbers. Moreover, no effect was detected for small numbers, confirming previous studies which used only finger movements. Altogether, our finding suggests that the well-known finger/number interaction can be reversed with tool use.

Keywords: Ideomotor mechanism; Number processing; Tool use.

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Creativity*
  • Female
  • Hand
  • Hand Strength / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Semantics*
  • Young Adult