On knowing about nothing: The processing of zero in single- and multi-digit multiplication

Carlo Semenza, Alessia Granà, Luisa Girelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Zero has a special role in calculation: indeed it is not obvious which representation may be invoked in multiplication or division by zero. In particular, zero as an operand, unlike any other operand, makes any quantity disappear. Aims: The study is intended to s hed light on the mechanisms mediating the manipulation of zero. Methods & Procedures: Three neuropsychological patients, AF, FV, and FS, are described, whose specific pattern of preserved/impaired performance with single- and multi-digit multiplication shows selective problems with the use of zero (N × 0 and 0 × N). Outcome & Results: AF's performance in single- and multi-digit multiplication showed a clear dissociation between spared fact-based problems and impaired 0 rule-based problems. FV was totally unable, in multi-digit multiplication, to apply adequately the 0 rule that he could master in simple calculation. Finally, FS showed, within the rule-based problems, a clear-cut dissociation between a preserved performance on N × 0 problems and an impaired performance on 0 × N problems, a difficulty that almost disappeared in multi-digit multiplications Conclusions: Overall the reported dissociations indicate that a full grasp of the concept of zero may not be used in routine calculation, and that processing of zero rather appears to rely on a collection of independent, shallow representations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1105-1111
Number of pages7
Issue number9-11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology


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