Graspable objects shape number processing

Mariagrazia Ranzini, Luisa Lugli, Filomena Anelli, Rossella Carbone, Roberto Nicoletti, Anna M. Borghi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The field of numerical cognition represents an interesting case for action-based theories of cognition, since number is a special kind of abstract concept. Several studies have shown that within the parietal lobes adjacent neural regions code numerical magnitude and grasping-related information. This anatomical proximity between brain areas involved in number and sensorimotor processes may account for interactions between numerical magnitude and action. In particular, recent studies have demonstrated a causal role of action perception on numerical magnitude processing. If objects are represented in terms of actions (affordances), the causal role of action on number processing should extend to the case of objects affordances. This study investigates the relationship between numbers and objects affordances in two experiments, without (Experiment 1) or with (Experiment 2) the requirement of an action (i.e., participants were asked to hold an object in their hands during the task). The task consisted in repeating aloud the odd or even digit within a pair depending on the type of the preceding or following object. Order of presentation (object- number vs. number-object), Object type (graspable vs. ungraspable), Object size (small vs. large), and Numerical magnitude (small vs. large) were manipulated for each experiment. Experiment 1 showed a facilitation - in terms of quicker responses - for graspable over ungraspable objects preceded by numbers, and an effect of numerical magnitude after the presentation of graspable objects. Experiment 2 demonstrated that the action execution enhanced overall the sensitivity to numerical magnitude, and that at the same time it interfered with the effects of objects affordances on number processing. Overall, these findings demonstrate that numbers and graspable objects are strongly interrelated, supporting the view that abstract concepts may be grounded in the motor experience.

Original languageEnglish
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Issue numberDECEMBER
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • Action
  • Affordance
  • Number
  • Object

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Neurology
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


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