Can doing finger exercises improve math scores?

Can doing finger exercises improve math scores?


Ever feel your fingers move unconsciously when you’re figuring out simple math problems? It may be you’re sensing the strong neural connection between our fingers and numbers. Scientists became interested in this topic when noticing that the same areas of the brain that control the fingers light up when solving math problems even though people were not actually moving their fingers.

Researchers have found a strong connection between math skills and finger gnosia, or knowledge of your fingers. They test young kids by asking them to put their hands in a box with an open side. The researcher then touches one or more of the kid’s fingers, removes the box, and asks which finger was just touched. Children’s ability to recognize which finger has been touched predicts how well that child will perform on a variety of math tests over years.

Yet anytime we talk about how one skill predicts another, as researchers we need to figure out which skill causes the other. Is it that kids who are already predisposed to be good at math have great finger gnosia when they are young? Or can we teach finger gnosia to young children and see effects later in math performance?

For instance, does playing a musical instrument, which indirectly involves finger awareness, improve math skills? Unfortunately, there is no strong evidence to suggest this connection. But there is some early evidence that direct finger awareness training can affect students’ later math performance (Gracia-Bafalluy & Noel, 2008). However, before you run off to find finger gnosia training materials for your 5-year-old, this research is still very new, and it’s still too early to make suggestions about teaching finger awareness. Nonetheless, it is fascinating. Check out the research articles below to learn more: