If you’ve ever found yourself feeling embarrassed because you do math by counting on your fingers – stop it. Why? Because it turns out, counting with on fingers is a sign of intelligence.
According to the Wall Street Journal, children who solve math problems by counting on their fingers do so because they have better perception of their hands. This better perception of their hands allows these children to be better at math than a child who does not solve problems by counting with their fingers.
It is not uncommon for people – especially parents – to frown upon counting on your fingers. This is because there is a fear that it is going to impede a child’s ability to learn. Truthfully, research suggests counting on your fingers actually makes it easier for you to learn.
Finger perception is defined as the ability to distinguish, name, and recognize your fingers. Truthfully, counting on your fingers is directly connected to math skills in the brain. Research has found that even when someone isn’t counting with his/her fingers, the areas of the brain associated with the person’s fingers are still being activated. Basically, this means that even when you are doing math problems and you aren’t counting on your fingers, your brain still is.
According to research published in Frontiers, Ilaria Berteletti, an educational neuroscientist at Gallaudet University, worked with a research partner to scan the brains of 39 different children between the ages of 8 and 13 in order to learn more about how the minds worked. More specifically, they wanted to see what was going on in the children’s brains when they were subtracting and multiplying single digit numbers.
The scans of the children’s brains revealed the brain associated two different regions with fingers. The somatosensory area responded to sensations including heat, pain, and pressure, and the motor area (which is responsible for controlling movement) were both active when the children were performing subtraction problems even if the children did not count on their fingers to arrive at their answers.
This is the very first study to reveal evidence to suggest the sensory area of the brain plays such an important role in solving mathematical problems. Similar brain activity was not found when the children were doing multiplication problems. The researchers, however, believe this is because children learn to subtract differently than they learn to multiply.
“You probably learned subtraction using your fingers,” Dr. Berteletti said. “Multiplication was probably presented verbally and with rote memorization. For us, it’s evidence that the two types of operations rely on different networks.”
At this time, scientists are not sure whether finger recognition makes a child better at math. Scientists also do not know whether using your fingers for counting will improve recognition of your fingers. This research, however, has made it known that children who count with their fingers – meaning they have finger perception – tend to be more skilled at mathematical equations.
Previous studies have even revealed how well a child will succeed in math at the next grade level is easier to determine by a child’s finger perception than by standard test scores. This particular study used a 6-year-old to determine these results. The study also determined that improving a child’s perception of his/her fingers will improve their arithmetic skills.
So, what does all of this information mean? Well, it means that you should stop feeling bad or embarrassed if you rely on counting on your fingers to do math problems. Why? Because it is something the brain does on its own even if you are not physically doing it. It also means you should encourage children to use their hands and become aware of their fingers and consider teaching them how to do math problems by using their fingers.